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World: Exploring The Depths And Roots Of Anti-Americanism

Why does much of the world look at American policies with suspicion and resentment, as a recent survey suggests?

Washington, 18 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A new poll that suggests a growing dislike of American policies around the world raises questions about the roots of discontent and whether this trend can be reversed.

The survey, by the independent Washington-based Pew Research Center, concludes that perceptions of American unilateralism remain widespread globally, including in Europe.

And, says the poll, the majority of Muslim and Arab nations surveyed doubt the sincerity of the U.S. war against international terrorism and see instead a desire to control the Middle East and to dominate the world.

"The problem is not with just the Bush administration -- it is about U.S. power, it's about America's sense of itself."
A majority of people in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey -- all Muslim-majority countries with strong official ties to Washington -- believe America is waging its war on terror in a bid to control Middle Eastern oil and dominate the world.

RFE/RL interviewed several experts in trying to assess the underlying reasons for what one analyst, Ted Galen Carpenter of the Washington-based Cato Institute, calls a "breathtaking reservoir of hatred" of America by much of the Muslim and Arab world.

Carpenter tells our correspondent this resentment goes back more than a half-century and is due to such U.S. actions as propping up the shah of Iran in the 1950s following his overthrow and supporting Arab dictators deemed friendly to American interests.

Carroll Doherty is the editor of the Pew Research Center Poll. Doherty sees Muslim and Arab countries being critical of both current U.S. foreign policy and what America has become in the post-Cold War period.

"Obviously the war in Iraq and the subsequent occupation have hardened Muslim opposition and hostility toward the United States," he says.

Doherty says U.S. President George W. Bush's image remains negative because he is seen as a leader who acts unilaterally.

"There's a great deal of dislike for President Bush in the countries we surveyed," he says.

The Pew survey found that majorities in every country surveyed -- except the United States -- have an unfavorable opinion of Bush. Negative ratings range from 57 percent in Britain, to 85 percent in France and Germany, to 90 percent and higher in Jordan and Morocco.

The experts RFE/RL talked to say that throughout the Cold War, the legitimacy of American leadership and its use of power were largely unquestioned, particularly in Western Europe, because of the perceived Soviet threat.

A decade or so later, France and Germany -- two NATO allies -- emerged as the most vocal opponents to the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Now, the experts note, the United States is the only superpower and its unprecedented global strength has become a growing issue.

Doherty says being No. 1 is sometimes resented and even grudgingly envied.

"I think some of it goes with the territory of being the only superpower. I think there will be a good deal of resentment toward the United States because of the geopolitical situation in the world. Some of that can't be reversed. [But] I think policy changes in some areas would go a long way toward improving attitudes in the Muslim world," Doherty said.

Christopher Preble, an analyst with the Cato Institute, says the world tends to place too much emphasis on what the United States is doing. Preble says it is relatively rare today for Americans to be fearful or concerned about policies pursued by foreign leaders. At the same time, he says, when Bush says something, the rest of the world pays close attention.

"I think there's been a fixation [by the world] with President Bush's personality, which strikes, I think, many as a bit cavalier. Again, this is what makes him so appealing, I think, to most Americans, that he appears to be confident, even to the point of being a bit cocky, perhaps. But, again, many Americans find that kind of endearing," Preble say.

Preble says to focus too much on Bush is to miss that there is an important continuity of fundamental U.S. policy that goes back to the administration of President Bill Clinton.

He says that under Clinton, the United States had "a self-important sense" of itself, manifesting in an overall assessment that America was "the indispensable nation."

Preble says this should suggest to the rest of the world that "the problem is not with just the Bush administration -- it is about U.S. power, it's about America's sense of itself."

Asked whether the survey's perceived growing anti-American sentiments could be reversed, Preble said attitudes would change fastest in Europe because of shared values.

"Liberal democracies, as a whole, do have their occasional differences from time to time, but they share certain very important goals. And so, at the end of the day, I think that those over-arching concerns -- that is, peace and stability, and free markets, and economic prosperity and the rule of law -- all of those things will trump individual differences of opinion over these kinds of issues like Iraq," Preble said.

But what about the Muslim and Arab worlds?

Rameen Javid is executive director of a New York-based nonprofit organization called Afghan Communicator. Javid tells RFE/RL's Afghan correspondent in Washington that the United States does have an important tool to work with to improve its image.

"Maybe if there is more cultural exchange between Muslim countries and the U.S., there will be a greater understanding, because most of the suspicion that comes out from the public is because of their misunderstanding of what is going on, of the culture. So, I would say education would be one big thing that [the] U.S. can do because it has much more resources to educate its public and also people in the Middle East, the Muslims, to show them some efforts that [the U.S. is] actually doing something to improve their lives," Javid said.

Javid also says many Muslims and Arabs living in the United States are concerned about being singled out as potential terror suspects.