America And the World: Who’s Out of Step?

One of today’s news stories was the release of the latest survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. The complete results are available here.
The Pew group introduced its results this way: “A year after the war in Iraq, discontent with America and its policies has intensified rather than diminished.” Newspaper coverage of the survey’s findings sounded the same note and was mainly designed to support John Kerry’s claim that the Bush administration’s foreign policy has alienated allies.
Anti-Americanism is, obviously, alive and well, but the survey’s actual results are a bit more interesting than that caricature. First of all, however, it should be noted that the survey was completed before last week’s bombings in Madrid. The survey dealt largely with the issue of terrorism; how the Madrid attacks will affect European opinion was not measured. Subject to that large caveat, here are some observations.
As to anti-Americansm, there is less to the survey than meets the eye. When asked whether they have a “favorable view of Americans,” 73% in Great Britain, 68% in Germany, 64% in Russia, and 53% in France have either a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion. Majorities in various countries are, of course, critical of American foreign policies; it is hard to see how it could be otherwise, given the steady diet of anti-American propaganda turned out by their newspapers and political leaders.
This applies to the Iraq war, as large majorities in every country polled support their country’s decision to stay out: 88% in France, 86% in Germany, 83% in Russia, and so on. But here is the odd fact: by large majorities, the same people say that liberating Iraq will be good for the Iraqis. In America, 84% say Iraq will be better off post-Sadddam (9% say worse off; I suppose those are the Ralph Nader voters). But 82% of respondents in Great Britain, 67% in France, and 65% in Germany say the same thing.
This is a bit of a puzzle. How can these large majorities in France and Germany recognize that liberation is good for the Iraqi people, but still support their governments’ efforts to prevent it? The only answer I can see is that they are less idealistic than Americans. They realize that liberating Iraq was a good thing, but they are glad that their governments left it to the Americans to accomplish the task–thereby saving their own countries money, lives and possibly terrorist vengeance. Hardly a noble point of view; and it still doesn’t account for the fact that their governments not only stayed out, but actively tried to keep Saddam in power. There is a level of cynicism here which is hard to penetrate. People in countries like Russia, Turkey, Morocco, Jordan and Pakistan are more consistent; they opposed the war, and they think Iraq will be worse off with Saddam gone. Which tells us something, I guess, but it’s hard to say what.
On a more immediate political front, the survey’s findings are good for President Bush. Sixty percent of Americans think we did the right thing by liberating Iraq, and 62% say the war helped the overall war on terror. Only 28% support the Democrats’ theory that it hurt the war on terror. And 62% of independents say the war helped. President Bush’s approval rating is at a lofty 61%, with only 36% disapproving.
I’m not sure where Pew got those numbers, but I’ll take them.


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