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June 17, 2008

Bush Inspires Least Confidence as World Leader

by Jim Lobe

While historians debate whether George W. Bush has been the worst president in U.S. history, a global consensus that he inspires the least confidence of all the world's major leaders appears to have emerged.

An average of two out of three respondents in 20 nations whose combined population make up 60 percent of the world's population said they either had "no" or "not too much confidence" in Bush "to do the right thing regarding world affairs," by far the highest negative rating of eight leaders featured in a new survey [.pdf] released Monday by WorldPublicOpinion.org (WPO).

The lack of confidence in Bush's leadership was particularly strong in the greater Middle East, Latin America, and among Washington's traditional allies in Western Europe, including two of the nations visited by Bush in his valedictory tour of "Old Europe" during the past week – Britain (77 percent negative) and France (85 percent negative).

Indeed, in 16 out of 19 countries polled, not including the U.S., majorities or pluralities rated Bush negatively. Only two countries, Nigeria and India, gave him positive ratings overall, while views were roughly evenly split in Thailand.

Of the world's leaders, only Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, was perceived negatively in more countries – a 37 percent plurality of Chinese respondents said they had "a lot" or "some confidence" in his leadership – but his overall negative rating, 54 percent, was not as low as Bush's.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received the next most negative rating at 52 percent. But pluralities in three Asian countries – China, India, and Indonesia – said they had a lot or some confidence in his "doing the right thing in world affairs."

The survey, which was conducted between January and May, was overseen by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), WPO's parent organization. The 20 countries included the U.S., Argentina, and Mexico in the Americas; Britain, France, Spain, Ukraine, and Russia in Europe; Iran, Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Azerbaijan, Jordan, and Turkey in the greater Middle East; Nigeria in Africa; and China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and South Korea in Asia.

As poorly as Bush performed in the survey, no other major national leader, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French Nicolas Sarkozy, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, among others, enjoyed the confidence of most respondents or even of majorities or pluralities in more than half of the countries polled.

Of all the leaders featured, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received more positive than negative ratings in nine countries, three more than the next most positive performance, by Britain's Brown, who was rated positively in six countries overall.

Still, an average of only 35 percent of all respondents said they had a lot or some confidence in Ban, compared to 38 percent who said they had no or not too much confidence. Nonetheless, that was the highest rating of any world leader.

"While the worldwide mistrust of George Bush has created a global leadership vacuum, no alternative leader has stepped into the breach," said WPO's director, Steven Kull. "Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin are popular among some nations, but more mistrust them than trust them. Also, the nations that trust them are not organized into any clusters that have the potential to be a meaningful bloc."

The poll's findings largely echo those of another major international survey of 24 countries, including 15 that were also covered by WPO, just last week by the Pew Global Attitudes Project here.

It found that, for the first time since Bush became president, attitudes toward the U.S. has improved modestly during 2007, but that negative views toward Bush himself remained strong, especially in Western Europe, Latin America and the greater Middle East. In only three of the 24 countries – Tanzania (which Bush had personally visited just two months before the survey was conducted), Nigeria, and India – did majorities say they had a lot or some confidence in Bush to do the right thing in world affairs.

Indeed, the director of the Pew poll, Andrew Kohut, told reporters that the improvement of Washington's image appeared to be due more to anticipation of the end of Bush's term and the accession of a new president next January than to any other factor.

The poll, which was carried out during April this year, also found that significantly more respondents who said they were paying at least some attention to the U.S. election in all but two countries – the U.S. and Jordan – of the 24 surveyed voiced confidence in Democratic Sen. Barack Obama than in his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.

"McCain is probably associated with President Bush," Kohut suggested when asked to explain the much greater confidence in Obama expressed by respondents.

While Bush's negative ratings in the WPO survey were significantly greater than those of the other leaders, he performed better on the positive side of the ledger than either Musharraf or Ahmadinejad. An average of 23 percent of all respondents said they had at least some confidence in Bush compared to 22 percent for Ahmadinejad and a mere 18 percent for Musharraf.

An average of 28 percent of respondents (not including China) gave Hu positive ratings, while 43 percent gave him negative ratings. His highest ratings came from South Korea (56 percent), Iran (52 percent), Egypt (47 percent), Azerbaijan (37 percent), and Mexico (34 percent). Most negative ratings came from the Palestinian Territories (82 percent), the U.S. (79 percent), Jordan (59 percent), and Turkey (58 percent).

Putin received an average of 32 percent positive and 49 percent negative (not including Russia). His most positive assessments came from Asia, particularly China (75 percent) and South Korea (54 percent). Ukraine also gave him high marks (59 percent). Most negative, on the other hand, were Palestinian (85 percent), French (76 percent), and U.S. (71 percent) respondents.

Brown positive and negative ratings were 30 and 43 percent, respectively. Support was strongest in the U.S., Nigeria, South Korea, and China, and most negative in the greater Middle East.

Aside from Bush's low ratings, Sarkozy's were perhaps the most interesting, particularly in light of a succession of surveys over recent years that have shown widespread approval of France and French policies, especially in the Muslim world. Not including France itself, Sarkozy's average positive ratings were only slightly higher than Bush's at 26 percent, while 49 percent of respondents gave him a negative score. In contrast to his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy is widely perceived as having tried to move French policy, especially in the Middle East, closer to Washington's.

Last month, Bush, who has repeatedly claimed that history will vindicate his more controversial policies, notably his decision to invade to Iraq, earned the highest public disapproval ratings in the history of the Gallup poll, which dates back to the 1930s.

In an informal survey of more than 100 U.S. historians earlier this spring, only two thought his administration would be judged a "success," while a strong majority – about two out of three – said he would be assessed as the "worst president ever."

(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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