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POLITICS: U.S. Image Abroad Still Sinking

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Jun 27 2007 (IPS) - Consistent with its performance since at least 2002, the global image of the United States sank further over the past year, particularly among predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia, according to the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project (GAP) survey released here Wednesday.

The survey, which included more than 45,000 respondents interviewed in 46 countries and the Palestinian Territories (PT) during April and early May, found that the U.S. retains great popularity (roughly two-thirds or more rate it favourably) only in Israel and most of sub-Saharan Africa.

But its standing among its western European allies, most of Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, as well as the Islamic world and most Asia, including China, has continued to fall, particularly compared to five years ago on the eve of its invasion of Iraq, according to the survey.

At the same time, the latest survey, the sixth undertaken by Pew since 2000, found that global attitudes towards other major powers, particularly Russia, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, China, have also become more negative.

Foreign confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin “to do the right thing regarding world affairs,” for example, has fallen nearly to the same low levels as U.S. President George W. Bush in many countries, particularly in Western Europe, the survey found.

“The major powers are not respected; their leaders are not respected,” said former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who co-chairs GAP along with Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth.


She noted that two challengers to the current international system – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who were also the subject of the survey – also fared poorly.

Attitudes towards the United Nations and the European Union were significantly more positive, although they varied widely from region to region. Majorities in 33 of the 47 countries surveyed said they had favourable views of both institutions, with Africa the most positive and the Middle East the least. The rest of the world offered more mixed assessments.

Overall, the survey also found a sharp rise in global concern – led by Brazil, Argentina, France, Venezuela, Peru and Germany – about environmental threats to the planet compared to five years ago. Pluralities or majorities in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, including China (70 percent), rated the environment as one of the two most important threats facing the world.

In 34 of the 37 countries surveyed on the question, the U.S. was named either by a majority or a clear plurality as the country that is “hurting the world’s environment the most”, while China was the second-most frequently named country as the source of environmental problems.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, majorities in all but one of the 10 surveyed countries rated HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases as the top global threat, while in the Middle East, the most-often-cited threats were nuclear proliferation and religious and ethnic hatred.

Concern about the growing divide between rich and poor nations was also cited more frequently as a major threat in most regions than in previous surveys. Majorities or pluralities in most countries said they believed U.S. policies increased the gap.

The continuing decline in Washington’s standing was reflected not only in the belief that it bore most responsibility for environmental threats and the rich-poor gap, but also in growing disapproval for the Bush administration’s most prominent foreign policy commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the survey.

From 50 percent (Britain and South Africa) to 93 percent (PT) in 43 of 47 countries said the U.S. should withdraw its troops from Iraq, while majorities in 32 countries, including of 80 percent or more in Argentina, Egypt, PT, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and China, said NATO should leave Afghanistan.

In 30 out of 34 countries that were polled on the question in 2002, as well as 2007, support for Washington’s global war on terror has dropped, particularly in Europe. Even in countries that have experienced terrorist attacks in recent years, including Indonesia, Bangladesh, Spain, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey, majorities say they oppose the U.S. campaign.

Throughout the Islamic world (with the exception of Pakistan), majorities ranging from 55 percent in Malaysia and Bangladesh to 91 percent in Jordan criticised U.S. policy in the Middle East for favouring Israel “too much”. Majorities in France, Germany, and Sweden and clear pluralities in Britain, Canada, South Korea and even Israel itself – a finding Danforth called a “broadside” against current U.S. policy – took the same position.

Majorities in 30 of 46 countries – mostly in the Middle East and Europe – said they believed that Washington tended to act unilaterally in foreign affairs without taking the interests of their countries into account. That view was most strongly held (74 percent or more) by respondents in Sweden, Britain France, Spain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, PT, and South Korea.

At the other end of the spectrum, 74 of Israelis said they believed Washington took account of their interests either a “great deal” or a “fair amount”. Washington also received high marks on the same subject from Nigeria, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, and India.

The survey found that the balance of opinion toward China remains favourable in 27 of the 47 countries overall, particularly among a number of its Asian neighbours, notably Malaysia (83 percent favourable), Pakistan (79 percent), Bangladesh (74 percent), and Indonesia (65 percent), and much of sub-Saharan Africa where Beijing’s economic investment has grown rapidly.

Nonetheless, the survey found double-digit declines over the last several years in its favourability ratings in most of Western Europe, South Korea, Turkey, and Japan. The survey found particularly great concern over China’s growing military power in South Korea, France, the Czech Republic, Japan, and Germany.

At the same time, both Latin American and African respondents said that China’s influence on their region was more positive than U.S. influence.

Overall, majorities in 14 of 47 countries said they held a favourable opinion of Russia, while majorities in 10 expressed negative views. Views were most critical in Western Europe and the Middle East.

Iran’s image, according to the survey, eroded significantly over the past year throughout much of the world, but particularly in Turkey, Egypt, and Indonesia.

Views of Iran were uniformly negative among the major industrialised nations, and ratings for Ahmadinejad considerably more negative than those of Iran itself, although majorities in Bangladesh and Indonesia and pluralities in PT, Pakistan, and Malaysia said they expressed at least some confidence that he would “do the right thing” in world affairs.

A BBC poll of global opinion published earlier this year found that Israel, Iran, and the U.S. were the three nations that were viewed most negatively by the world’s public.

The Pew survey included the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela from the Americas; and Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey and Ukraine from Europe.

Middle Eastern and North Africa countries included Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, PT, and Israel; while Asian countries comprised Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea. African countries included Ethiopia, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

 
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