U.S.'s image fast eroding with war plans
By JOCELYN NOVECK
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Dan Vlasin, a 23-year-old teacher in Romania, has no doubts that the
world would be better off without Saddam Hussein. But he's just as
certain that America doesn't have the right to overthrow the Iraqi
"America is acting as if it were God," says Vlasin, from the city of Cluj
in Transylvania. "Saddam Hussein is a paid assassin, but it's up to the
Iraqi people to get rid of him."
Donna Wright, a massage therapist in London, is sensing more
anti-American feeling these days. "I'm not anti-American people, I'm
anti-American administration," she says. "I don't agree with what they're
Both Romania and of course Britain, America's staunchest ally, support a
U.S.-led war against Iraq. Vlasin and Wright disagree with their
governments, and they're not alone.
>From a legal consultant in Rome to a housewife in Hungary to a
businessman in Madrid, the message is the same: The image of America is
fast eroding, and people are concerned about the way the world's lone
superpower is throwing around its weight.
A poll released Tuesday shows that U.S. favorability ratings have
plummeted in the past six months, both in countries that oppose war and
countries that support it.
The survey, conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, found that in
Britain, favorable views of the United States have declined from 75
percent to 48 percent since mid-2002. In Poland, positive views have
fallen from nearly 80 percent six months ago to 50 percent. In Russia,
which felt a wave of sympathy for the United States after the Sept. 11
attacks but strongly opposes the war, favorable views are lower - 28
percent - than before the terror attacks.
And in Turkey, which has yet to approve U.S. use of its military bases,
favorable views have dropped from 52 percent in 1999-2000 to 30 percent
last year to 12 percent today, the survey found.
When asked simply whether they favored the war, respondents in Italy and
Spain registered 81 percent opposition. And yet respondents largely felt
that ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein was a good thing. In France, 73
percent saw the Iraqi public benefiting.
"The world is not with us for the most part," says Andrew Kohut, director
of The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which interviewed
more than 5,500 people in nine nations from March 10-17 with a margin of
error varying from 3.5 to 5 percentage points. "But they think there will
be positive changes in Iraq and the region."
Asked Tuesday whether it bothered President Bush that much of the world
opposes him, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer did not answer directly.
He countered with other domestic polls suggesting many Americans think
Saddam is a threat.
If so many people feel that Saddam's ouster would be beneficial, why has
the U.S. image suffered so much in pursuing that goal?
For much of the world, "the issue is not so much about disarming Saddam
as about how the United States is using its power," says Gideon Rose, an
analyst at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.
"It's up to the United States to dissipate this worry," Rose says. "It
has to demonstrate that its power will be used within some kind of
Global opposition to U.S. foreign policy is greater now than it ever has
been, Rose said, noting that during the war in Vietnam, opinion within
individual countries was much more divided.
Time and again, people questioned on the streets Tuesday cited fears that
the United States is serving as a kind of "global sheriff," in the words
of Nadia Boneva, a 33-year-old environmental expert in Bulgaria, whose
government supports the United States.
"America always changes its policies to suit its interests," said
Ertugrul Erdogan, 41, sitting in a McDonalds in central Ankara on
Tuesday, eating a hamburger.
"It moves with the megalomania of being the only power after the collapse
In the eyes of Adrian Zavala, a 21-year-old Mexican selling gum in front
of the U.S. Embassy in his country, Bush "wants to be the owner of the
world, and that's not right."
And in Canada, which has said it won't back a war on Iraq that lacks U.N.
support, 26-year-old Emmett O'Reilly said he was proud of his
"It shows that Canada has its own mind and that we can stick by our
decisions," said O'Reilly, a computer worker for the Toronto police
The State Department released a list Thursday of 30 countries it called
members of a Coalition for the Immediate Disarmament of Iraq. Along with
Britain and Spain it included countries like Afghanistan, Albania and
Eritrea but was notable for the absence of such important countries as
France, Germany, Russia and China.
With war seeming inevitable, is there anything that the United States can
do to reverse the erosion to its image?
At a gathering last week in New York, former President Bill Clinton was
careful not to criticize Bush, but said that once Saddam is ousted, the
administration would do well to "reach out" to those countries with whom
relations have been strained.
Rose, of the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that even if the war
is a total success, the United States will have to "make a serious, well
thought-out effort to convince people that this war isn't just the first
But many doubt that such an effort will be made.
"In most parts of the world people are going to hate the United States,"
said Jose Ortiz de Solorzano, a 47-year-old businessman in Madrid, Spain,
whose government is supporting the war.
"But since it has vast economic and military power," Ortiz said, "I
suppose it doesn't care."