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THE WORLD

U.S. Seen Unfavorably, Poll Shows

Mistrust of America and other negative feelings have grown stronger nearly a year after the Iraq war began, a survey in nine countries says.

March 17, 2004|Sonni Efron | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A year after the start of the Iraq war, mistrust of the United States abroad has intensified, and the ill will toward America has begun to erode support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism, according to a global attitude survey released Tuesday.

The ongoing study of public opinion in nine countries was conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in February and March -- before last week's bombings in Madrid and the subsequent electoral defeat of the Spanish government, which had contributed troops to the Iraq war. Spain was not included in the survey.

The study illuminates the widening gulf between the American public's beliefs and those of key U.S. allies -- a divide thrust into the public eye Sunday with the surprise defeat of one of the Bush administration's staunchest allies on Iraq and the war on terrorism, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

Although most Americans believe that the war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein helped in the global fight against terrorism, majorities in Germany, France and Turkey, and half of those surveyed in Britain and Russia, think the U.S.-led invasion undermined the struggle against terrorism.

Large majorities in Russia, France, Germany, Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan -- and 58% in Britain and 50% in Jordan -- said that the war had diminished their trust in the United States. But 58% of Americans thought the opposite.

Most of those polled in Germany, France, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan and Jordan -- and 48% of Moroccans -- said they believed that American and British leaders lied when they claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Majorities in six countries and 48% in Russia said that the United States is not sincere in its motives for the war on terrorism. Only Americans say that they have more confidence than before the war that the United States wants to promote democracy around the world.

"It is disturbing that Americans are the only ones surveyed who believe the war in Iraq helped, rather than hurt, in fighting Al Qaeda," said Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of State under President Clinton. "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."

The Pew poll has been carefully studied in the past by the Bush administration and various government and private commissions grappling with America's declining standing abroad and growing anti-American sentiment in much of the Islamic world.

An alarmed State Department also has commissioned its own polls, which have found similar trends to those cited by Pew, according to officials who have seen the data.

U.S. officials had argued that although the plummeting popularity of the United States caused deep concern, it had probably reached its low point during the last Pew survey last May, shortly after the end of major combat in Iraq, and they expected that it would rebound.

The new poll did show some bright spots for the Bush administration, such as less apparent hostility in some nations with Islamic majorities. For example, the percentage expressing a very unfavorable view of the United States dropped in Turkey from 68% in May to 45% in this survey; in Pakistan from 71% to 50%; in Jordan from 83% to 67%; and in Morocco from 53% to 46%.

But large majorities still view the U.S. unfavorably. And although America and Europe share an archenemy in Osama bin Laden, President Bush was rated even less favorably than Bin Laden in Jordan, Morocco and Pakistan -- a key ally in the U.S. war on terrorism and the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader.

Moreover, nearly half of Pakistanis, as well as 70% of Jordanians and 66% of Moroccans, said suicide attacks against Americans in Iraq were justified. Even 31% of Turks surveyed agreed.

The survey found a significant erosion of U.S. standing in Britain, a development that, together with the Spanish election results, could prove threatening to Bush's most important ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Only 43% of Britons surveyed in the latest poll believe that Blair made the right decision in using force against Iraq, down from 61% in May.

Support for the war among Americans fell from 74% to 60% in the same period.

Although European leaders have stressed their desire to improve ties with the United States -- and argued that success in rebuilding and democratizing Iraq is in every nation's interest -- transatlantic tensions in public opinion are unabated. Growing majorities in Britain, France and Germany want the European Union to be as powerful as the United States and want their foreign policy and security arrangements to be independent from Washington, the survey found.

"It's a fact, whether we like it or not, that there's a huge problem with the credibility of America in Europe and beyond," a senior European diplomat said.

The problem is due not simply to the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the diplomat said, but also to what he called the "Guantanamo element" -- the view, especially among European youth, that the United States is not the defender of freedom, civil liberties and other ideals that it purports to be. The U.S. has been holding hundreds of terrorism suspects, including European citizens, at its base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without formal charges or access to lawyers. -- some for more than two years.

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