Politics & Policy

Popularity Contest

Why they hate, and like, us.

The latest Pew poll of June 2007 purports to offer a comprehensive survey of what the world thinks of the United States. Polls, of course, can be unreliable; and much of the commonly expressed anti-Americanism seems to be a mere reflection of disdain shown by our own intellectuals and academics, Hollywood, and the media. While it is hard to separate what foreigners feel about Americans in general from their opinions about the United States government in particular, the results of this latest survey are both predictable and astonishing.

The nations of the Middle East and other Islamic countries, of course, poll anti-United States across the board, from Palestine to Morocco. And therein arise some interesting paradoxes. Kuwait, once extinguished until the American military restored it, is the most pro-American nation of the Arab Middle East. Yet, even there, as many Kuwaitis have an unfavorable opinion of America as a favorable one.

Turkey is democratic, a NATO ally, and a recipient of substantial American military aid. Yet it reveals the highest level of anti-Americanism of any country polled — 83 percent express an unfavorable view of the U. S. Perhaps that enmity is due to our support for Kurdistan and the resentments of Ankara’s own Islamist government. In any case, so much for the ballyhooed American efforts to bolster Turkey’s bid to join the EU. In theory, if we opposed Turkish membership, or suggested that Ankara leave NATO, would our image then improve? Again, something is terribly wrong when four out of five “allied” Turks feel so unfavorably toward the United States.

Egypt has received collectively well over $50 billion in American help, but only 21 percent of its population seems to like the United States. In fact, whether we save countries like Kuwait, or lavish money on Palestine, Egypt, and Jordan (20-percent approval rating), or send billions to rebuild Afghanistan, or try to help Muslim Turkey get into the EU, or buck up Pakistan (15-percent approval), or feed poor Muslims in Somalia, or chastise the Russians about Chechnya, or bomb the Muslim-killing Serbians, or lead the effort to save Muslim Indonesians after the Tsunami, it all apparently matters very little. It may sound counterintuitive, but Russia (the country that leveled Grozny and exterminated Chechen Islamic rebels) seems to be better thought of in the Middle East than we are — or perhaps more feared, which in the region is apparently the same thing.

Apologists, of course, will cite our policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel as catalysts for Middle East hatred. But clearly there is some preexisting venom involved that makes the Muslim Street ignore all the good we have done, and focus only on what is considered bad. It is most likely modern Islam’s inability to confront Western-inspired modernism, particularly the hypocritical desire for practices and things American, combined with the concomitant religious embarrassment over those only partially fulfilled appetites. The mindset of the Middle East is best summed up as something like “I deserve what you Americans have, but won’t ever become like you to get it.”

In turn, what enrages America about the petulant Islamic world’s dislike is mostly the unwillingness of these nations to translate their popular anger into any concrete action. We would expect these belligerents to refuse U.S. aid, cease immigrating to the United States, keep their students from visiting the Great Satan, or kick the U.S. military out of the Persian Gulf.

In response, while the Arab masses seethe, thousands of American scientists are working overtime on remedies for their anger — namely how not to import any oil from this dysfunctional region that makes us vulnerable to its blackmail while enriching unstable regimes that do real harm to the world at large.

Even more perplexing are the attitudes voiced by some key European countries — France (60 percent unfavorable to the U.S.), Germany (66-percent unfavorable), and Spain (60 percent). Millions of Europeans in these countries express a much more negative view of the United States than do Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelans. So much for the supposedly sweeping changes in France and Germany that brought the Sarkozy and Merkel governments to power.

For this unspoken implosion of the Atlantic Alliance, we can fault the usual suspects — Iraq, the war on terror, George Bush’s 2002 unilateralism, America’s failure to ratify Kyoto, or the envy that these erstwhile imperial powers feel about being upstaged by a mongrel democracy.

But who really cares to calibrate all the reasons why the Germans hated us when Ronald Reagan deployed Pershing missiles to protect them, or why the Greeks hated us when Madeline Albright tried to stop Balkan genocide, or why the French hated us for ending the once lucrative Baathist regime in Iraq? Instead, at some point Americans should ask themselves how they can continue to be allied militarily with countries whose populations have a more negative view of us than do our supposed rivals in Russia (48 percent unfavorable) and China (57 percent).

Contrast all that dislike with those nations who appreciate the United States, which tells us something much different about America’s role in the world. The Kenyans and Ghanaians, for example, reveal more admiration for the United States (87 and 80 percent, respectively) than do we Americans ourselves.

In fact, all of sub-Saharan Africa — poor and with a past of exploitation — has an unbelievably high regard for the U.S. Perhaps black Africans appreciate our support for democracy, realize that we were not colonialists, see that blacks are succeeding in the U.S. in a way unthinkable elsewhere, know that we spearhead the global effort to bring AIDS relief and stop the genocide in Darfur, and sympathize with their own long struggle against radical Islam.

Much of Eastern Europe is similarly well-inclined. Poland, for example (61 percent approval rating), does not trust Russia — and does not trust Europe to offer any help in a future hour of crisis.

Likewise, many countries of Latin America — Mexico, Chile, Peru — poll staunchly pro-American. We have tried to support these shaky Latin American democracies, welcomed their immigrants, and allowed billions of dollars to be sent back as worker remittances. And unlike a Spain, France, Germany, the Muslim Middle East, Russia, or China, such confident emerging nations also are not hung up on perceived past grandeur, blame-gaming the new superpower for their own subordinate roles.

Indeed, how strange that these poor countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, and South America are more favorable to America than are oil-rich sheikdoms, rich European socialist republics, and Middle East recipients of massive U.S. aid.

Or perhaps it’s not so strange at all.

The more confident a nation is, even when poor, the more likely it seems to admire America. Some of our best supporters turn out to be one-billion person India (59 percent favorable rating), Japan (61 percent), and South Korea (58 percent) — all democratic, capitalist juggernauts, and appreciative of liberal American trade policy and U.S. military support. Again, should we Americans value the friendship of such democracies — or that of a China that cheats on international trade accords and intimidates its neighbors?

So it is encouraging to be admired by idealistic populations in Africa and Eastern Europe, and shown friendship by India and Japan. But perhaps it is equally to our credit that a bullying China and Russia, a dictatorial and intolerant Middle East, and smug nations of Western Europe seem to resent us, especially our support for democratic change abroad.

No doubt when the Bush administration leaves office, and should a Democratic one replace it, our approval ratings will rise with our present detractors. But they may also decline among our friends who will learn that U.S. open markets, free trade, and reliable military support in times of crisis are now objects of left-wing criticism. Note in this regard that world opinion toward both China and Russia is turning unfavorable. That distrust will only increase as both begin to flex their muscles — the former gobbling up oil contracts from the most murderous regimes, the latter selling the same rogues anything they need to foment unrest.

A number of British diplomats have expressed weariness over the old special relationship with America. Likewise, the British public now barely expresses a favorable impression of the United States (51 percent). But given the emerging world landscape, such a change in attitude would be suicidal for the United Kingdom. History would instead counsel the British people that Europe has nearly destroyed them twice in the twentieth century, while America sought to save them — and would again in the twentieth-first.

Britain should tread carefully, since it is even more likely that a growing number of Americans is turned off by Europe, British anti-Americanism, NATO, and the Middle East. And in the long history of this country, isolationism, not intervention, has been the more natural American sentiment.

If the British think their Tony Blair was George Bush’s poodle, they may soon see a British prime minister reduced to a Chinese, Iranian, or Russian hamster — as we already have witnessed with the Russian assassination scandal and the even more embarrassing Iranian hijacking of a British boat.

Unfortunately, Russia and China will only grow wealthier from oil and trade surpluses, while the chances improve of a petrol-rich dictatorship in the Middle East gaining nuclear weapons within missile range of Europe. What will keep the U.S. engaged as a powerful ally of a Britain and Europe in their coming hour of need will not be brilliant statesmen or Atlantic-minded Presidents, but only American public opinion and goodwill that are predicated on some notion of reciprocal friendship.

In that regard, such polls continue to be mostly one-sided. What we need now are new comprehensive surveys of what Americans themselves think of the United Nations, the Islamic world, and Western Europe — so that they can try to square the results with our present foreign policy of aid, friendship, or military assistance to those who apparently don’t want or appreciate what they receive.

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