The U.S. image abroad: Even China’s is better

Brian Knowlton – The International Herald Tribune

FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2005
WASHINGTON The anti-Americanism that surged through much of the world over the U.S. war in Iraq shows modest signs of abating, although distinctly negative views persist in the Muslim world, and many Europeans now have a more favorable view of China than of the United States, according to a major new international opinion poll.
The snapshot of world opinions emerged from a Pew Global Attitudes Survey of nearly 17,000 people in the United States and 15 other countries: Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Spain and Turkey.
The poll, conducted from April 20 to May 31, found lingering doubts, fears and resentments about the United States, but a warming in a few countries, generally tied to specific policies, from a year earlier.
For example, 79 percent of Indonesians said they had a more favorable view of the United States as a result of the aid Americans provided after the Dec. 26 tsunami.
Indians appeared pleased with closer economic ties to the United States, and Russians by cooperation on trade and terrorism.
“Anti-Americanism in most parts of the world we surveyed seems pretty entrenched,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center. “But there are some very positive signs of progress in India and Russia and Indonesia.”
In addition, he said, preliminary results from Morocco suggest significant improvements in the U.S. image there.
Favorability ratings of the United States – while well below levels of 2002, before a trans-Atlantic gulf opened over Iraq – improved slightly even in France and Germany, as both sides have sought to mend the earlier wounds.
Still, among traditional American allies, only Britain and Canada remained positive in their overall views of the country. And in many countries the unpopularity of President George W. Bush remained a salient factor.
In Britain, Canada and France, about three-quarters of respondents said Bush’s re-election had made them feel less favorable toward the United States. Canadians were the people most likely to view Americans as rude and violent.
Around the world, a sense that the United States pays little attention to other countries’ interests remained widespread, although India was an exception.
Asked what could be done to improve America’s image, former Senator John Danforth, a co-sponsor of the Pew survey, referred to the war in Iraq and said, “It could be that the price of being forceful in dealing with perceived problems is you’re unpopular.”
Danforth, who resigned as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in January, added, “The United States has been assertive, and our view is that with the threat of terrorism we cannot be passive.”
The response of other countries, “if you boil it down,” he said, “is, ‘There’s a hornets’ nest out there – don’t stir it up.’ But then the question is, what should be done?”
Americans appeared quite aware of their image problem. Only 1 in 4 thought the country was well-liked abroad. (Germans strikingly underestimated their own popularity. While only half thought their country was well-liked, Germany received the highest favorability rating of the five economic powers in the survey, particularly from its historic foe, France.)
Strong majorities in several countries said they would like to see another military power emerge to balance the United States – but most, especially in the West, did not want this to be China.
“There’s really strong opposition to the idea of China rivaling American military power,” Kohut said, “even though most of the world doesn’t like the fact the U.S. is a military hegemon.”
Seven in 10 of those surveyed in Britain, France and Russia opposed a rising Chinese superpower, as did approximately 8 in 10 Germans and Americans. But the idea was much more popular in developing countries: Majorities in Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey were in favor.
Most West Europeans prefer greater independence from the United States in security and diplomatic affairs. An overwhelming 85 percent of the French said it would be good if the European Union emerged as a military rival to the United States.
The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The Chinese, perhaps reflecting their dynamic growth and improving lifestyles, had the best regard for themselves of any people, ahead of the Americans.
Europeans, particularly the French and Germans, expressed substantial concern about national conditions. In fact, most populations were dissatisfied with local conditions (Jordan, Pakistan and Spain were exceptions). The most pronounced malcontents were France, Germany and Russia, where 7 in 10 were dissatisfied, and Poland, with more than 8 in 10 expressing dissatisfaction.
Immigration remains a vexing issue. More than half of Germans called immigration from the Middle East and North Africa a bad thing; only one-third saw it as good. They were even less favorable to immigration from Eastern Europe.
The most welcoming country in Europe was Spain, where two-thirds of the public called immigration from North Africa and the Middle East a good thing, followed by Britain, with 61 percent in favor.
Although the United States is traditionally viewed as a land of opportunity, people in most countries – asked where they would advise a young person to move in order to lead a good life – chose other destinations. Australia, Britain, Canada and Germany were cited more often than the United States.
Bush was cited as the single largest factor behind the anti-American feelings. Outside the United States, Bush had majority support only in India, at 54 percent.
Over all, the most negative views of the United States were found in Muslim countries. Two countries caught up in the war against terror, Turkey and Pakistan, were the most negative: Only about 1 in 5 people in each country said they viewed the United States favorably.
Kohut said he was a bit surprised by Turkish attitudes, because the United States has vocally championed Turkey’s candidacy to join the European Union. He attributed this to bitter differences over the Iraq war.
In the Muslim world and in Europe, the war in Iraq remained as unpopular as it was in 2003 and 2004. Views in Pakistan turned sharply more negative after allegations that U.S. guards at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had abused the Koran.
Despite opposition to the Iraq war, majority support continued in most countries for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism. One exception was Spain, where the Madrid terror attacks of March 11, 2004, may have contributed to a near-evaporation of support for U.S. efforts.
Confidence in Bush was negligible in Muslim countries like Jordan, where only 1 percent of respondents expressed confidence in him; in contrast, President Jacques Chirac of France received a vote of confidence from 56 percent in Jordan.
Many people in predominantly Muslim countries appeared to fear that the U.S. military, having invaded the mainly Muslim nations of Afghanistan and Iraq, could be employed against them. “A striking 80 percent of Indonesians say that they worry at least to some degree that America could someday become a military threat to their country, including 38 percent who say they are very worried,” the report said.
Nevertheless, said Kohut, “There’s a little hint of some ray of light in the Muslim world, even though we’re intensely disliked by Muslim publics.”
Muslims optimistic about prospects of democracy in their countries are giving the United States some credit, he said. The reaction to tsunami aid, as well, carried an important message for policy makers: “We can move the needle in the Muslim world,” he said, through actions and policies viewed as positive.
Kohut, asked to name a single thing that could improve world attitudes toward the United States, said the answer was simple: “Iraq has to go better.”
Full results of the Pew Global Attitudes Survey are available online at

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