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Poll shows U.S. isolation: In war's wake, hostility and mistrust
Meg Bortin/IHT 

International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, June 3, 2003

 
PARIS The war in Iraq has widened the rift between the United States and the rest of the world, with a steep plunge in Americans' views of their traditional allies and a further surge of anti-Americanism in Muslim countries, a global opinion survey shows.

The poll of more than 15,000 people in 20 countries and the Palestinian Authority, conducted in May by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, also showed a significant loss of faith in two major international institutions created out of the ashes of World War II - the United Nations and NATO.

"The figures show that the publics - the European public and our public - are feeling that the ties that have bound us together for the last 50 years are weakening," said Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. secretary of state and chair of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. "I see this as very serious."

The poll forcefully supported the finding of an earlier survey that a U.S. war with Iraq would fuel anti-American sentiment.

As could be expected, this feeling is strongest in the Muslim world, where negative attitudes toward the United States have soared since the war on Iraq began March 20 with a wave of American air attacks over Baghdad.

One of the most extreme shifts was seen in Turkey, where the government, heeding popular sentiment, decided not to allow United States to use its soil as a base for attacks on Iraq although Washington and Ankara are partners in NATO.

The poll found that 83 percent of Turks now have an unfavorable opinion of the United States, up from 55 percent last summer.

The swing was even sharper in Indonesia, where Islamic radicalism has been rising since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

While 75 percent had a favorable opinion of the United States in 2000, 83 percent now have an unfavorable view. Similar levels of animosity hold sway in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

In fact, feelings are so intense in the Islamic world that Osama bin Laden was chosen by five Muslim publics - in Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority - as one of the three political leaders they would most trust to "do the right thing" in world affairs.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, said he had been surprised by the extent to which "the bottom has fallen out" in the Muslim world.

"Anti-Americanism has deepened, but it has also widened," he said. "You now find it in the far reaches of Africa - in Nigeria, among Muslims - and in Indonesia. People see America as a real threat. They think we're going to invade them."

In Europe, in contrast, the image of the United States has improved since a poll in March, just before the onset of hostilities in Iraq. Yet favorable views among America's main allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization remain sharply down from levels last year.

In France, Germany and Spain, where public anger over the U.S. war plans spilled massively into the streets this winter, fewer than 50 percent have a positive view of the United States, the poll showed.

Among the French, who took an uncharacteristically univocal stand in opposing the war, favorable opinion of the United States has recovered to 43 percent - up from what Pew describes as the "abysmal" level of 31 percent in March, but well below the 63 percent favorable rating of last summer.

The Germans, who joined the French at the head of Europe's anti-war front, also remain wary of the United States, with 45 percent having a favorable opinion, up from 25 percent in March but down from 61 percent in the summer of 2002.

Animosity is far stronger on the other side of the Atlantic, where Americans were infuriated by the failure of traditional allies - and especially the French - to back them in the war.

Only 29 percent of Americans now say they have a very favorable or somewhat favorable view of France, down from 79 percent in February 2002. And just 44 percent of Americans take a favorable view of Germany now - a dramatic plunge from 83 percent in February 2002.

"The figures confirm that the Iraq crisis has precipitated a profound crisis in trans-Atlantic relations, which I think had been building for some time," said Timothy Garton Ash, author and director of the European Studies Center at Oxford.

"The deepest cause is the end of the Cold War and the fact that we no longer have a common enemy - the Soviet Union."

Among the West European allies, favorable opinion of the United States is strongest by far in Britain, America's chief partner in the war despite considerable domestic opposition to the cooperation provided by Prime Minister Tony Blair. Positive views among the British have bounced back to 70 percent, up from 48 percent in March.

Favorable opinion among the allies is weakest in Spain, where the government ignored overwhelming popular opposition to the war and backed the United States and Britain.

Only 38 percent of Spaniards now have a positive opinion of the United States - a big increase, however, from 14 percent in March.

The hostility in Spain is not limited to U.S. policies but extends to Americans as people - fewer than half have a positive impression. But approval of "the American people" remains solid in France, where 58 percent have a favorable view, Germany (67 percent), Italy (77 percent, up 3 points since last summer) and Britain (80 percent).

Asked if they had an unfavorable view of the United States because of George W. Bush or a more general problem with America, a majority in Western Europe blamed the president. Nearly three quarters in France and Germany blame Bush, as do two-thirds in Italy and six out of 10 in Britain.

Bush, said Garton Ash, stirred European resentment by "basically giving key allies like France and Germany the feeling that, 'We don't really care whether you're with us or not,'" and in forcing the timetable. "If Bush had given us a few more months of negotiation he could probably have got the Europeans on board," he said.

"Especially now that we know Saddam didn't have a nuclear weapon in the cellar ready to use."

One casualty of the increased strains between America and Europe is NATO. A more independent approach to security and diplomatic affairs for Western Europe was favored by more than three-quarters in France, more than six out of 10 in Spain, Turkey and Italy, and 57 percent in Germany.

Britons are divided on the idea of loosening the partnership, with 51 percent favoring continued close ties and 45 percent wanting a more independent approach.

Even in the United States, a big minority - 39 percent - favors an easing of the security and diplomatic bonds that have cemented the alliance since the end of World War II.

"For those of us who care about NATO, this is a red flag," Albright said. "The only way to get beyond this is to find more ways we can work together in NATO. I think it's a relevant organization, but it can't be relevant if you don't work at it."

Another casualty of the war is the credibility of the United Nations, where protracted bickering in the run-up to the Iraq war failed to prevent hostilities.

"Favorability ratings for the world body have tumbled in 16 of the 18 countries for which benchmark figures are available," the Pew report notes. "Majorities or pluralities in most countries believe that the war in Iraq showed the UN to be less important than it once was."

In fact, not a single country surveyed has a majority who believes that the United Nations still plays an important role in dealing with international conflicts.

A further consequence of the war is a new decline in post-9/11 sympathy for the United States. Since last summer, support for America's war on terror has dropped to 60 percent from 75 percent in France, to 60 percent from 70 percent in Germany and to 51 percent from 73 percent in Russia.

Over the same period, opposition to the war on terror has swelled to more than 70 percent in Pakistan and Turkey and to 97 percent in Jordan.

With the exception of Israel, Nigeria and the United States itself, all the countries surveyed judge U.S. policies to be too unilateralist. Fully 85 percent of the French said they felt that the United States did not take into account the interests of other countries. At least seven out of 10 shared this sentiment in South Korea, Spain, Russia and Canada, as did two thirds in Australia and Germany.

Majorities in most countries polled reject the so-called Bush doctrine of military preemption. Those with majorities backing the doctrine were traditional U.S. allies - Canada, Britain, Australia and Israel - as well as Pakistan, which is involved in a military face-off with India over Kashmir and where fully 70 percent said that "military force against countries that may seriously threaten our country, but have not attacked us," can be often or sometimes justified.

As for the conduct of the war itself, majorities in every country surveyed except Spain and Turkey felt their own government made the right decision to use or not use force, or offer bases to the United States, as the case may be.

Still, majorities in many countries that opposed the use of force say they believe Iraqis are better off since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. In France and Germany, more than three-quarters say this is the case, and 70 percent in Spain agree.

Among the populations surveyed, Muslims were divided on this, with majorities or pluralities in Nigeria, Lebanon and Kuwait saying Iraqis were better off without Saddam, while most people in Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority said the Iraqis were worse off.

Underlying some of the opinions that have emerged since the war are attitudes on national identity and social values uncovered in an earlier Pew survey of more than 38,000 people in 44 countries.

The survey, conducted in 2002, demonstrated broad acceptance of U.S. ideals like democracy, the free-market model and, surprisingly, even globalization.

Yet at the same time, people in many countries see their way of life as threatened and want protection from foreign influence.

This feeling is strongest of all in Turkey, which feared being drawn into fighting in Iraq and where, even before the war, nearly 90 percent said their way of life needed defending.

 


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