TOPICS > Nation

America’s Image

December 5, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: The new poll is entitled “What the World Thinks in 2002: How Global Publics View Their Lives, Their Countries, the World, America.” It was conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Its director, Andrew Kohut, joins me now. Andy, welcome.

This is a simply huge survey compared to what is normally done, let’s say, in this country. Tell me about the genesis of it and how you did it.

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, we did it in 44 countries. We did it with 38,000 interviews. In each country we can say something about public opinion. The broadest objective of it is to understand global points of agreement and disagreement at a time when the world is getting smaller and at a time when the world is extremely tumultuous. This is the first series of reports to come out of this survey. We will report later in the spring about other topics.

TERENCE SMITH: Looking at it altogether, what’s the biggest trend, the most interesting and surprising thing that came out for you?

ANDREW KOHUT: The two headlines: One, the amount of global gloom about the international situation, the position of the planet at the end of the year; and also slipping… the slipping American image all around the world, not just in Muslim nations where the notion is they hate us. But attitudes toward America have declined all around the globe.

TERENCE SMITH: All right. Well, let’s look at some of the findings that you have here. I mean the first in a chart here shows the European views of the U.S. particularly compared to an earlier survey done in 1999-2002.

ANDREW KOHUT: The earlier survey by USAIA, I might add and it shows clearly in Germany, Britain, Italy, opinions of the United States are still favorable but not nearly as favorable as they were prior to 9/11 attacks. There was a great outpouring of sympathy from us, from our friends and from all kinds of countries, but what this survey shows is the extent to which our old traditional…our old friends, our traditional allies are begin to go have a different point of view about us on a lot of different issues.

TERENCE SMITH: Why down so sharply in Germany?

ANDREW KOHUT: That certainly was taken just before the German election. And opinion about America was very contentious; the issue of whether we’re going to go to war with Iraq and whether the Germans would support us or not and the Germans are very wary about potential war in Iraq and getting involved in it.

TERENCE SMITH: And yet right next door in France essentially flat or even up a point.

ANDREW KOHUT: Yeah, but the French have… give us the lowest ratings in Europe. It’s just that they haven’t gone any lower. The French have been traditionally at least favorable to us — of the big nations of Europe.

TERENCE SMITH: All right, then, secondly is a survey you did of the opinion of the U.S. in the Muslim world. Tell us about that.

ANDREW KOHUT: Well in the Muslim world we find that if there’s a place where there’s true dislike of America, it’s in the Muslim world. As this surveys shows, our two partners in the war on terrorism, Egypt, six percent have a favorable view, 69 percent of an unfavorable view. In Pakistan, only 10 percent favorable view; in Turkey, 30 percent. Both of these numbers represent lower ratings than was the case prior to the 9/11 attacks.

TERENCE SMITH: What explains them so low? For example, in Egypt, a country to which we give billions in foreign aid, Pakistan, a country where we for gave debt and provided a lot of assistance and still do, how do you explain it?

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, Terry, unquestionably our policy, U.S. policies toward Israel are a large part of this, but there’s another element of this. In every one of these countries, there’s disapproval of the war on terrorism, even in the Muslim countries where we’re liked in Indonesia, not shown on this chart or Mali or Senegal. There’s backlash in Muslim countries against the war on terrorism. The U.S. is thought to be picking on Muslim countries. Not so in the rest of the word. The war on terrorism gets broad support around the world but not in Muslim countries.

TERENCE SMITH: And in Jordan, again, a very close ally of the United States and yet only 25 percent have a favorable view of what the U.S. Is doing these days.

ANDREW KOHUT: Very unfavorable attitudes. There’s the real problem for the United States, addressing not only dislike — out and out hatred in some of these countries. Forty-two percent have strongly unfavorable views of us in Turkey — our NATO ally.

TERENCE SMITH: Then you go on to this next, you take a look at the question of whether suicide bombing is justifiable in defense of Islam in different countries.

ANDREW KOHUT: There’s a very troublesome attitude. We show very strong, high percentages in some country, a majority saying suicide bombing is justifiable in defense of Islam. Even in countries where it’s not a majority or even a plurality, there’s large percentages of the… of these populations which are sympathetic to this tactic — a worrisome set of attitudes.

TERENCE SMITH: And finally, you analyze the question of using force to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq, and attitudes towards that and what did you find?

ANDREW KOHUT: Interestingly, while the Europeans agree with us that Saddam is a threat to regional stability, a threat to world peace, there is very little appetite for joining the conflict among our allies even in Britain we have 47 percent in favor, 47 percent opposed. The Turkish situation is really the most problematic for the Americans. Only 13 percent say the Americans should be allowed to use their bases to attack Iraq if it comes to that. The Turks not only don’t want to do this — they think it might be bad for Turkey if Saddam goes. Many of them see this as a war against an unfriendly Muslim state, not an objective… having the objective of making this a more peaceful region.

TERENCE SMITH: And yet finally through all of this, you find a reservoir of good will towards the United States.

ANDREW KOHUT: In most countries, in 35 of the 44 countries, a majority of people still have a favorable attitude toward the United States. That favorable… those favorable ratings are lower than they once were, but the United States still is looked to, particularly in the developing nations of Asia and Africa, as models for democracy, models for free market practice.

TERENCE SMITH: Andy Kohut, thanks so much.

ANDREW KOHUT: You’re welcome.

MARGARET WARNER: And rejoining us now are Katrina Vanden Heuvel editor of the Nation Magazine and Jim Hoagland, a columnist for The Washington Post. Katrina, what do you make of this poll? Do you think that this slipping opinion of the U.S. Is justified, and does it matter?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I think it shows the desperate need for an alternative national security, human security agenda. Think of the goodwill in the immediate aftermath of September 11th that has been squandered. The U.S. could have used its leadership and could still with an alternative to be a source of hope not resentment in the world. Instead we have used our resources, energy, and militarism toward a reckless war with Iraq or heading that way instead of think of promoting a development and democracy agenda in the Arab world, trying to bring peace to the Middle East, using the UN as a real instrument for war prevention and disarmament. There are a whole series… and addressing the vast inequalities in the world.

So I think Turkey is a very interesting example. If we’re going to go there and $10 billion for their air space for military purposes, why not use that money for nation building, economic security, so I think it’s a very telling sign, not surprising, in light of the way this administration has treated even its closest allies on everything from the international criminal court, global warming and shredding treaties right and left.

MARGARET WARNER: Telling and not surprising, Jim?

JIM HOAGLAND: Well, not surprising on two scores. One is that the United States, after all, is the biggest, richest, strongest kid on the block. It’s going to stir resentment. We’re also very intrusive. We are symbols of globalization. People frequently mix up changes in their societies that come from globalization and attribute it to Americanization. So that’s a problem that comes with the territory.

There’s a problem created by this administration in terms particularly of an early days of its style, of unilateralist behavior and really of sticking a finger in the eye of some of the Europeans. There’s a price to be paid for that. The administration I think has come to realize that and is working hard on overcoming it. But the third thing in this that is a little bit more surprising for me is the fact that the countries that were surveyed are gloomy about themselves. The disapproval ratings of the governments of those countries are higher than the disapproval ratings of the United States. The executive summary of the report says we live in a gloomy time, and the United States becomes a symbol and pays the price for some of that.

MARGARET WARNER: Jim Hoagland, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, thanks, both.