Gap Grows Between U.S., World Public Opinion

The following article is from Inter Press Service looking at how the opinion of Americans and others are so different on issue such as the war on terrorism and Iraq. You can see the original article at http://ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=22889.

Gap Grows Between U.S., World Public Opinion

By Jim Lobe

Inter Press Service

March 16, 2004

WASHINGTON, Mar 16 (IPS) - Mistrust of the United States, particularly U.S. President George W. Bush, has grown steadily in western Europe over the past 10 months while anti-American sentiment in the Arab world remains pervasive, says a major new public-opinion poll of nine countries

Large majorities in each of the eight foreign nations surveyed (the United States was the ninth country) believed Washington pays little or no attention to their country's interests in making its foreign policy decisions, according to the latest report of the four-year-old Pew Global Attitudes Project (GAP) sponsored by the Pew Research Centre for the People & the Press.

Majorities in five Europe countries also said they believe the continent should chart a more independent course in its foreign policy, while at least two-thirds of respondents in the same countries, with the exception of Britain, agreed it would be a ''good thing'' if the European Union (EU) became as powerful as the United States in order to check Washington's power.

In the four predominantly Muslim countries covered by the survey, anger toward the United States since last May, when GAP last conducted polls there, has dissipated somewhat, but al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden remains broadly popular.

“There is a huge chasm between the Muslim world and us”, noted former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who chairs GAP and its international advisory board. “To lessen the gap, we need the unity of the non-Muslim world, and we don't have that unity”, she told reporters Tuesday.

“I find very little in this report that is reassuring, and much of it is very worrying”, added Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of defence who directs the international security programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) here.

“We're starting to see signs (that gaps between the U.S. and its European allies) might in fact be structural.”

The new GAP survey, which was carried out between mid-February and the beginning of March, covered opinions about the United States, the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq and related issues in Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Morocco and Pakistan, as well as in the United States.

The same countries were also polled in April 2002; on the eve of the U.S.-led Iraq invasion in March 2003, and two months later, in May 2003.

Its release comes in the wake of last Thursday's devastating bombings in Madrid that resulted in the upset victory of Spain's Socialist Party, which has taken a far more critical view of U.S. foreign policy, particularly the Iraq war, than that of the outgoing ruling party headed by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, one of Bush's staunchest allies.

Some analysts have suggested the Madrid bombings, the first major terrorist attacks claimed by al-Qaeda in Europe, might actually bring European attitudes closer to those of the Bush administration.

Indeed, countries surveyed by the GAP that have suffered recent terrorist attacks -- Russia, Turkey and Morocco -- were the only ones that saw significant increases in support of U.S. anti-terrorist efforts since May 2003.

But that might be about the only good news the GAP poll offers for the Bush administration.

The survey found little change in opinion on the war in Iraq since last May, when disapproval in the seven countries that did not take part in the invasion hovered around 85 percent. The only exception was in Britain, where those who believed Prime Minister Tony Blair made the right decision in going to war fell from 61 percent to 43 percent.

Doubts about the motives for U.S. military efforts were found to be pervasive in both Europe and the four predominantly Muslim countries.

Majorities in all but the United States and Britain (33 percent) said they believed the Bush administration's main interest is to “control Mideast oil”, while majorities in five of the countries, including France, said they believe his goals included “dominat(ing) the world”.

Near majorities or majorities in all of the predominantly Muslim countries said another goal was “to protect Israel”.

Majorities in France, Germany and each of the predominantly Muslim countries said they did not believe that Washington's “war on terrorism” was motivated primarily by the fight against terrorism. In Russia, a 48 percent plurality expressed similar scepticism.

Majorities ranging from 50 percent (Britain and Russia) to 67 percent (Morocco) said they believed the impact of the Iraq war hurt, rather than helped, the global efforts to stop terrorism, while between 45 percent (Britain) and 78 percent of people (France) outside the United States said they had lost confidence in the trustworthiness of Washington as a result of the Iraq war.

Moreover, significant majorities in France (82 percent), Germany and Jordan (69 percent), Turkey (66 percent) and Russia and Pakistan (61 percent) said they believed U.S. and British leaders deliberately lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) before the war, as opposed to having been given bad intelligence.

In Britain, 41 percent believed that they lied, while in the United States the percentage was 31 percent.

“The credibility of the United States is sinking and the numbers who believe that Bush and Blair lied to them is incredibly serious”, noted Albright.

The notion that Washington acts on its own without taking into account the interests of other nations was most prevalent in France (84 percent), Turkey (79 percent) and Jordan (77 percent), but even 61 percent of British respondents agreed with the statement.

By contrast, 70 percent of U.S. respondents thought Washington took other nations' interests into account.

Indeed, in almost every question of the survey, U.S. respondents provided a substantially different answer than respondents from the eight other countries, including, in most cases, Britain.

“There is a huge gap” between the perspectives of Americans and the others, noted Pew Director Andrew Kohut. “The gap isn't narrowing in these surveys; if anything, it's widening”, he added.

Despite a reduction in the intensity of anger directed against the United States in the predominantly Muslim countries last May, GAP found that support for both bin Laden and the idea of suicide bombings remained disturbingly high.

Bin Laden was viewed favourably by 65 percent of respondents in Pakistan, 55 percent in Jordan and 45 percent in Morocco. Two-thirds of Moroccan and Jordanian respondents said suicide bombings against westerners in Iraq were justified; for Pakistanis, the percentage was 46 percent.

Even higher percentages said suicide bombings by Palestinians against Israelis could be justified -- from 47 percent of Pakistanis to 86 percent of Jordanians.

A major gap between western and Muslim views of Iraq's future also emerged.

While substantial majorities, from two-thirds (France and Germany) to more than 80 percent (U.S. and Britain) of westerners said the Iraqi people will be better off because of the invasion, pluralities and majorities in Islamic countries, ranging from 44 percent in Turkey to 70 percent in Jordan, said they would be worse off.

At the same time, confidence in the ability of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq to address the needs of the people has slipped sharply in Europe, while opinions are more mixed in the Islamic countries. The most dramatic decline was found to be in Britain, where those who believed the occupying power would do a good or excellent job fell from 41 percent last May to 30 percent.

Respondents in the three western European countries also agreed by a margin greater than four to one that the United Nations could do the best job in stabilising Iraq.

Similarly, strong majorities in the three western European countries agreed that countries should only use force in dealing with an international threat with the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

In the United States, only 41 percent agreed with that statement; in Russia, the percentage was lowest, at 37. For the predominantly Muslim countries, percentages ranged from 38 (Pakistan) to 47 percent (Jordan). (END/2004)

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