U.S.: Poll Finds Iraq War, Guantanamo Controversy Hurting Image Abroad
By Andrew Tully
U.S. President George W. Bush says he pays no attention to polls and other measures of public opinion when formulating policy. He certainly didn't heed the protests in much of Europe when he began the war in Iraq. Now, a new poll in 16 nations two years after the war began gives at least a glimpse of how the world's view of the United States has been affected not only by the Iraq war, but also by what Bush calls the "war on terror," which includes the long-term detention of more than 500 terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International -- two of the world's best-known rights organizations -- have issued reports citing prisoner abuse and even torture at Guantanamo Bay.
Several prominent U.S. legislators and two former U.S. presidents have called for the facility to be closed or thoroughly investigated.
Meanwhile, the insurgency in Iraq continues to claim the lives of hundreds of Iraqi civilians, soldiers, and police, as well as dozens of U.S. troops. In Afghanistan, a surge in violence during the past three months by Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters has claimed the lives of 29 U.S. soldiers, about 40 Afghan government troops, and some 100 Afghan civilians.
Vice President Dick Cheney minimizes the impact of the Iraq war and the Guantanamo controversy on world opinion. "Does this hurt us from the standpoint of international opinion? I frankly don't think so," he said.
But a new poll by a private American research center contradicts the vice president. The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, finds that America's reputation has suffered as a direct result of the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. conduct of that war, and the overall war on terrorism.
In fact, poll respondents in 11 of the 16 countries surveyed voiced one particularly surprising attitude, according to Andrew Kohut, the director of the Pew Center. "Perhaps one of the most striking findings in the survey is that China now has a better image among the publics -- European publics -- than does the United States," he said.
Kohut told a Washington news conference that his poll found that the image of the United States has not improved in the past two years in Western European countries, where there was significant opposition to the Iraq war. It also found that the opinion of America has remained poor in many Muslim countries included in the survey.
On a positive note, the survey found attitudes toward the United States were more favorable in the former Soviet bloc nations of Poland and Russia, as well as in India and Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. Indonesia was the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid after the tsunami of 26 December.
Kohut said this aid, and Bush's international democracy efforts, have been received well in many parts of the world. "Some U.S. policies have been broadly popular, specifically aid to the victims of the tsunami -- very popular -- and President Bush's calls for greater democracy in the Mideast -- also popular in most places," Kohut said.
The Pew poll found that attitudes about the United States focused on the Bush administration, not on the American people themselves. It said most of those interviewed believe that Washington doesn't consider the interests of other countries when it makes foreign policy.
According to the survey, many respondents view Americans themselves as hard working and imaginative. But some also say they are greedy and violent. And many of those polled in Muslim countries say they believe Americans are immoral.
Appearing at the news conference with Kohut were former Republican U.S. Senator John Danforth, who also briefly served as Bush's ambassador to the United Nations. Also present was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton.
Danforth and Albright offered their analyses of the significance of some of the survey's findings. Albright concluded her remarks by saying the poll is a clear road map for how the Bush administration can improve its standing in the world.
"We can improve our image if we do undertake humanitarian tasks, if we support democracy without imposing democracy," she said. "And we can mitigate some of our problems if we take other countries' national interests into calculations as we create our own [policies]. And finally, a positive outcome in Iraq is absolutely vital."
The poll was conducted in late April through the end of May. Questions were put to random groups of about 1,000 people in the following countries: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, Poland, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Jordan, Indonesia, China -- and the United States.
Of the Americans surveyed, 70 percent told Pew pollsters that they understand their country is disliked in many areas of the world.
(Details of the poll can be found at http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=247)
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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