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January 23, 2007

Bush Continues to Unite the World... Against Him

by Jim Lobe

Despite two years of a concentrated effort by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her public diplomacy major-domo Karen Hughes to boost Washington's global image, more people around the world have an unfavorable opinion of U.S. policies than at any time in recent memory, according to a new BBC poll released Monday.

The survey, which polled more than 26,000 people in 25 countries, including the U.S., between November and January, found that a 49 percent plurality overall believes the U.S. is playing a "mainly negative" role in the world today, compared to less than a third (32 percent) who said Washington's influence was "mainly positive."

And in the 18 countries where respondents were asked the same question in each of the past two years, the latest poll found a substantial drop in the percentage who said they viewed U.S. influence as positive, from 40 percent in 2005, to 36 percent last year, to 29 percent in 2007.

"According to world public opinion, these days the U.S. government hardly seems to be able to do anything right," said Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), which, along with Canada-based Globescan, conducted the survey.

Germany and Indonesia, where nearly three out of four respondents said they had a mainly negative opinion of U.S. influence, were the least favorable, while 69 percent of French and Turkish respondents agreed.

The sharpest drops in positive ratings over the past year were found in Poland (62 percent in 2006 compared to 38 percent in 2007), Indonesia (40 percent to 21 percent), the Philippines (85 percent to 72 percent), and India (44 percent to 30 percent).

Respondents in the United States also showed greater opposition to their government's policies than in previous years, according to the survey.

Another Washington Post-ABC News poll, released on the eve of President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech to Congress Tuesday, found that 65 percent of respondents oppose the so-called "surge" of more than 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, while 48 percent called the war the most important issue today.

The findings of the BBC poll echo those of another major survey of 14 foreign countries released last June by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. It found that Washington's global image had slipped over the previous year, particularly in Europe and Asia, as well as predominantly Muslim countries, and that Washington's continuing intervention in Iraq appeared to be the main cause.

The new BBC poll found that the most negative views were evoked by policies pursued by the Bush administration in connection with its "global war on terror" and the Middle East.

Nearly three in four respondents overall (73 percent) said they disapproved of Washington's role in the Iraq war. Opposition was particularly intense in Egypt, France, and Lebanon where more than three out of four respondents said they "strongly disapprove[d]."

At the same time, more than two out of three (68 percent) overall said the U.S. military presence in the Middle East provokes more conflict than it prevents. More than four out of five respondents in three Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico – and in two mainly Muslim countries – Egypt and Indonesia – took that position.

Conversely, only 17 percent overall said they thought Washington's military presence exercised a stabilizing influence in the Middle East. The most positive views on this question were found in Nigeria, the only country where a plurality (49 percent) said it was stabilizing, the Philippines (41 percent), and Kenya (40 percent).

Perhaps not coincidentally, the same three countries were the only ones, aside from the U.S. itself, where majorities of respondents said Washington's influence in the world was "mainly positive."

On related issues, 67 percent of all respondents said they disapproved of Washington's handling of detainees at Guantanamo, while only 16 percent, concentrated in Kenya, Nigeria, India, the Philippines, and the U.S., said they approved.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents overall also said they disapproved of U.S. policy during last summer's war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah, compared to 21 percent – again concentrated in the same five countries – who said they approved.

Opposition to the U.S. role in the conflict, during which Washington strongly backed Israel and repeatedly defended it in UN Security Council deliberations, was particularly intense in Argentina (79 percent "strongly disapproved" of the U.S. role), Egypt (78 percent), Lebanon itself (76 percent), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (71 percent), France and Brazil (63 percent).

Sixty percent of respondents overall said they disapproved of Washington's handling of Iran's nuclear program, while 28 percent, including majorities in Kenya, Nigeria, and the Philippines and a plurality in India, said they approved. Disapproval was most intense in Argentina and three predominantly Sunni countries – Egypt, UAE, and Turkey – while opinion was most polarized in Lebanon where 26 percent "strongly approved" of U.S. policies and 54 percent "strongly disapproved."

While disapproval among all respondents of U.S. policies on Middle East issues ranged from 60 percent (Iran's nuclear program) to 73 percent (the Iraq war), somewhat smaller overall majorities said they disapproved of Washington's handling of North Korea's nuclear program (54 percent) and global warming (56 percent) while compared to 30 percent and 27 percent, respectively, who said they approved.

On North Korea, U.S. policies enjoyed the support of majorities in the two African countries, and the Philippines, and pluralities in India and Poland. A plurality in Australia disapproved, as did a small majority in South Korea. Significantly, in China, 56 percent of respondents said they disapproved, while 27 percent voiced approval.

On global warming, opposition to the Bush administration's policies was highest among European nations, particularly France and Germany (86 percent), Britain and Portugal (79 percent), and Italy (74 percent), all of which have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In Australia, which, like the U.S., has not ratified the treaty, 68 percent of respondents said they opposed Washington's policies, while in Russia, which has ratified Kyoto, a plurality of 46 percent agreed.

Majorities of Filipino, Kenyan, and Nigerian respondents and pluralities of Chinese, Indian and South Korean respondents said they approved of U.S. policies on global warming, while, within the developing world, disapproval was most widespread in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Lebanon, Turkey, and the UAE.

A 54 percent majority of U.S. respondents said they also disapproved of U.S. policies on global warming.

Overall, 57 percent of U.S. respondents said the country's overall influence on the rest of the world was "mainly positive," compared to 28 percent who disagreed.

On specific policies, 57 percent said they disapproved of their government's handling of the Iraq war and of the Israeli-Hezbollah war; 60 percent said they disapproved of its handling of Guantanamo detainees; and 53 percent said they believed the U.S. military presence provokes more conflict than it prevents.

A plurality of 50 percent of U.S. respondents said they disapproved of the government's handling of Iran's nuclear program, while the same plurality said they approved of its handling of North Korea's.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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