A year after the Iraq war, the United States still isn’t winning any global popularity contests.
The U.S. government lied in the run-up to the Iraq War; the invasion had to do more with regional power and oil than Iraqi democracy; the war, far from being part of the war on terror, has actually undermined it. Such are some of the findings of a Pew poll of opinion in the United States and eight European and Muslim countries.
The survey also found that while negative
views of the U.S. were slightly down in Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Jordan from their highs last year, they’re still widespread. So is admiration for Osama bin Laden, and sympathy with suicide bombers, even in Turkey.
The poll was taken before the terrorist attacks in Spain and their political fallout, but it delivers much the same message as the recent election upset: U.S. foreign policy is going over very badly in Europe.
As Carroll Doherty, editor of the Pew Research
“The divide between the U.S. and Europe is only getting wider…It’s beyond a question of America’s image, it’s now to the point where people want action based on their opposition to the U.S.”
There are some indications that the Bush administration is listening, at least a bit. Bush has
toned down his “go-at-it-alone” rhetoric and is seeking to enlist
international troops and financial contributions for the reconstruction effort. He’s even eased up on the U.N.-bashing — for now.
Bush has urged the new Spanish government and other allies to stand the course on his “war on terror”:
“They kill wherever they can, and it’s essential that the free world remain strong and resolute and
Considering the overwhelming disagreement with U.S. actions in Iraq, and distrust of U.S. motives there,
this will be no small task. The survey shows that favorable ratings of the U.S. have fallen in France,
Germany, and — strikingly — in Britain. Compared to last year, when 70 percent of the British
public viewed U.S. favorably, only 58 percent now do . In France, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. slipped from an already low 43 percent to 37.
In Muslim countries, attitudes have slightly moderated since last year. Forty-five percent of Turks hold a “very
unfavorable” view of the U.S. compared to sixty-eight percent last year. Similarly, in Pakistan, the “very
unfavorable” rating of the U.S. is 50 percent, down from last year’s 71. In Jordan, 67 percent have a “very unfavorable view” of the U.S., whereas last year it was 83 percent. But the study reveals
that many in these same countries feel that attacks against Americans Iraq as well as Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel are justified:
From the accompanying Pew report:
“Large majorities in Jordan (70%) and Morocco (66%) believe suicide bombings carried out against
Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable. Nearly half of those in Pakistan agree (46%), while
36% say such attacks are not justifiable. In Turkey, most respondents (59%) feel attacks against
Americans in Iraq are not justified, but about three-in-ten (31%) say that they are.”
Osama bin Laden is viewed favorably by 65 percent of Pakistanis and 55 of Jordanians
Pew’s Doherty explained the results as follows:
“It’s not that people say they support what bin Laden did on Sept. 11, but for people who oppose U.S. policy,
he is seen as someone who stands up to America.”
While 62 percent of Americans believe that the Iraqi invasion “helped” the war on terror, half or more
of their European counterparts believe the opposite is true. Fifty percent of Brits, 55 percent of
French people, and 59 percent of Germans believe that the war in Iraq has “hurt” the “war on terrorism.” More
troublingly for the Bush effort, clear majorities in France, Germany and Turkey believe that the U.S. “war
on terrorism” is “not sincere.” In Britain, the U.S.’s most important ally in the Iraq, only a narrow
majority of 51 percent believed that the U.S. effort was sincere.
When asked about what they thought about the motives of the U.S anti-terrorism effort, oil and world
domination — not democracy and security — were frequently cited by foreigners (though not much by Americans) causing
former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to opine in the Los Angeles Times:
“It is disturbing that Americans are the only ones surveyed who believe the war in Iraq helped, rather than
hurt, in fighting Al Qaeda … It is also troubling that the Iraqi conflict has caused each of the other countries
polled to lose confidence in America’s honesty and commitment to democracy.”
It comes as no surprise then that 82 percent of French people and 69 percent percent of Germans believed
that the U.S. and British leaders lied about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Most Europeans want do distance their countries’ foreign policies from the U.S. and overwhelming
majorities want to see the European Union become as powerful as the United States. The European desire to
strengthen the EU is in part the direct result of what was seen as American arrogance in dismissing
European concerns in the run-up to the Iraqi invasion. (Note that those surveyed made a
distinction between the U.S. government and the American people – disapproving of the actions of the
former, while having favorable impressions of the latter.)
Vast majorities of the Europeans believe that the U.N., not the U.S. can best secure Iraqi
self-government — reflecting the pre-war European insistence on an
international mandate. The image of a U.S. that is unwilling to listen to its allies or the international
community has been unfortunately confirmed throughout the occupation. As Washington Post
Anne Applebaum, writing in response to events in Spain, points out:
“The military uselessness of allies in general, and Europeans in particular, is now a cornerstone of
American political discourse, and a Spanish withdrawal from Iraq will only reinforce it.
In part, though, [the Spanish election] is the payback not for the war in Iraq but for the way it was launched and sold, or
not sold, to Europeans. Before the war, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell did not travel the continent,
explaining why it should be fought, despite the fact that this was not blindingly obvious, either here or
there. In the run-up to the war, we launched a U.N. process that — because of a quite separate military
schedule, one that allegedly required a springtime invasion — we clearly had no intention of taking
seriously. In the aftermath of the war, we lost interest in the allies who sent troops, sometimes at great
political risk. Military aid has not been forthcoming; contracts have gone exclusively to American
companies; budgets for public diplomacy in Europe have been cut.”
The Madrid attacks, rather than uniting Europe and pulling it closer to the United States, have only
deepened the divide. More than ever, Europeans are convinced that they
were right to oppose the war in Iraq. As the Guardian
“Two full-scale wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and countless anti-terrorist operations have failed to
convince most Europeans that this war, as now conceived, is winnable. Western intelligence agencies were
blindsided by the Madrid attacks. They had expected ‘chatter’ or warnings of an imminent strike from
communication intercepts. There were none. They had told us al-Qaida was so weakened it could only mount
attacks soft targets in Bali, Istanbul and Tunisia. That too was a dangerous miscalculation. And what
happened to the ‘fly paper’ theory – the idea that the front line in Iraq would draw all jihadists to a sticky
end? Al-Qaida, or those who act in its name are alive and kicking, and so probably is Osama bin Laden.
Madrid has shown that Osama’s ‘crusader’ targets are as vulnerable to the fundamentalist wrath of his
followers as they were two-and-a-half years ago, when the Twin Towers were levelled.
Mr Blair may argue that events in Madrid prove him right. But he still has to convince the British people, as
Mr Aznar failed to convince the Spanish, that the pursuit of the war in Iraq has not proved to be al-Qaida’s
greatest recruiting sergeant.”
Neither Blair, nor Bush have put forward a convincing case that the Iraqi War and occupation has
made the world safer from the sort of attacks witnessed last week in Spain. In spite of the
Europeans’ differences over Iraq and suspicions of U.S. motives, significant support for its “war on terrorism” remains. Fifty percent of French people, 63 percent of Brits, 55 percent of Germans, and
seventy-three percent of Russians support it. If the Pew survey is any indication, giving the U.N. a key role
in the Iraqi transition will be needed to maintain and build upon what little remains of U.S. credibility