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