March 17, 2004

Poll Finds Hostility Hardening Toward U.S. Policies

By SUSAN SACHS

During the first year of the United States occupation of Iraq, antagonism toward American foreign policy in some European and Muslim countries has hardened, with public opinion overseas swinging sharply in favor of charting a course independent of Washington, a new poll has found.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted the survey before the terrorist attack last week in Madrid and the subsequent revolt by Spanish voters against the political party that had embraced American policy toward Iraq.

But the survey found that a majority of people interviewed in France and Germany, two other traditional American allies, already believed that the Iraq war had undermined the struggle against terrorists and doubted the Bush administration's sincerity in trying to combat terror.

"The wounds have not healed among the allied publics since the end of the war and, in fact, things are a little worse," said Andrew Kohut, the director of the Pew Center. "And there are trends that speak to a more long-term and continuing disconnect between the old allies."

The poll was conducted in Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey and the United States.

In some predominantly Muslim countries, where negative attitudes toward American policy have prevailed for years, disapproval of the United States persisted over the past year, although at a less intense level that Mr. Kohut described as anger rather than hatred.

Still, the survey found, people in Jordan, Pakistan and Morocco tended to view other outsiders with almost the same degree of ill will and distrust as they did the United States. Opinions about the European Union and the United Nations were generally unfavorable or ambivalent at best, a sharp contrast to opinion in Europe and Russia where attitudes toward those institutions were positive.

A clear majority of people polled in the three countries also said that the suicide bombings against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq were justified.

On most foreign policy questions, the Americans interviewed expressed far more positive attitudes toward the war on Iraq, the Bush administration's approach to fighting terrorism and collaboration with Europe. While only 21 percent of French people surveyed wanted to maintain as close a relationship with the United States as in the past, 55 percent of Americans favored maintaining a partnership with Europe.

One question that was not asked by the Pew pollsters was whether foreigners considered it dangerous for their countries to be allied with the United States and its Iraq policy. After the Madrid bombings last week, many Spaniards expressed the belief that their government's closeness to the Bush administration had made their country a terrorist target.

The pollsters did, however, look at whether the strong foreign opposition to the war on Iraq had dissipated in the year since major combat was declared over. The answer was a definitive "no."

That hardening of views was echoed in the view held by a majority of foreigners that the Bush administration's "war on terror" was actually an effort to control the Middle East's oil wealth or to dominate the world.

Only in Britain and the United States did a majority of people believe that the American-led campaign against global terrorism was sincere.

"We do know that support has been flagging and more Germans and French think we're exaggerating this thing," Mr. Kohut said. "I think this reflects a general disenchantment with America."

Similar surveys in 2002 and 2003 had shown that foreign empathy with the United States, relatively strong after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington began to evaporate fairly quickly.

Compared with results in May of 2003, more people in France and Germany believed their countries had made the right decision in not supporting the war. Slightly more also expressed an unfavorable view toward the United States, although the five-point increase fell within the poll's margin of error. At the same time, public opinion in those countries mellowed toward Americans as a people.

Pew did not conduct interviews in Spain this year, but a survey it conducted there last May found that 62 percent disapproved of Spain's decision to use military force in Iraq, while only 31 percent considered it the right decision.

The survey by the nonpartisan Pew Center was conducted between Feb. 19 and March 3 with about 1,000 adults each in the United States, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey, and about 500 adults in Britain, France and Germany.

Interviews were conducted by telephone in the United States, Britain, France and Germany. In Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey, the interviews were conducted face-to-face. The surveys are based on nationwide samples, except in Pakistan, where the interviews were conducted in predominantly urban areas, and in Morocco, where the interviews were conducted only in urban areas.

The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 to 5 percentage points.

Good will toward the United States also slipped in Britain, the Bush administration's closest wartime ally. Half of the Britons surveyed said the Iraq war hurt efforts to combat global terrorism. Only 41 percent said they have more confidence now that the United States wants to promote democracy around the world.

At the same time, 33 percent of Britons, compared to 20 percent two years ago, said the United States was overreacting to the threat of global terror.

The survey also found a growing dissatisfaction with the British-American alliance, with 56 percent of the respondents supporting a more independent approach by Western European countries to security and diplomacy. Last year, 48 percent of Britons said they favored a more disengaged relationship with the United States.

Turkish attitudes toward the United States improved during the past year, possibly a reflection of satisfaction that post-war Iraq has not descended into a civil war that might threaten or destabilize Turkey. This year, 30 percent of Turks rated the United States favorably, compared with 12 percent last year.

But in other mostly Muslim countries, the poll found that public opinion was generally and obstinately at odds with the views of people in the West.

The enduring popularity of Osama bin Laden rated favorably by 55 percent of those surveyed in Jordan, 65 percent in Pakistan and 45 percent in Morocco underscored the gulf between Muslim attitudes and those in the West.

"The Muslim publics come off feeling beleaguered in relation to the rest of the world," Mr. Kohut said. "It's an in-your-face attitude and it reflects a real vein of discontent with us."


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | Help | Back to Top