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Poll: World's opinion of U.S. dimming

Published October 20, 2004

[Times photo: Willie Allen Jr.]
President Bush speaks at Sims Park in New Port Richey on Tuesday morning. He earlier had visited St. Petersburg's Progress Energy Park.

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America's image has plunged, the Iraq war was a mistake and John Kerry would make a better president than George Bush.

No, that's not a Kerry campaign line, but the results of a new international poll.

On the eve of an election that has sparked huge foreign interest, several of the world's leading newspapers asked people in 10 countries how they feel about the United States. The results were startling:

A majority of those polled in seven nations - including such close U.S. allies as Canada and Australia - say their opinion of the United States has worsened in the past few years. America "has thrown away the huge wealth of sympathy" it gained after the Sept. 11 attacks, said Spain's El Pais, one of the participating papers.

With the exception of Israelis, more than half of those polled said the United States was wrong to invade Iraq. "The U.S. should realize the limits of a policy relying on force," said Japan's Asahi Shimbun.

Kerry drew higher approval ratings than Bush in all but one country. Again with the exception of Israel, more than half of those surveyed had an unfavorable view of the U.S. president. "Poll reveals world anger at Bush," headlined London's Guardian.

Among the most surprising results: A majority of British and South Koreans don't think American democracy remains a model for other countries. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the open-ended detentions at Guantanamo Bay, the erosion of civil liberties - all have contributed to a sense that America's democratic values have have been compromised during the war on terror.

Surprising, too, is South Korean hostility toward the United States, whose aid and protection helped make South Korea one of the world's richest nations. Many Koreans feel America has become an impediment to reunification of north and south, and there is even fear of a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.

"Less a benevolent friend, the U.S. is seen as a hegemonic power that takes unilateral military action without regard to the consequences," said JoongAng Ilbo, a South Korean paper.

The poll revealed some paradoxes. Even if they dislike U.S. foreign policy, most of those surveyed think the United States should play a leadership role on the global stage. They also think it is important for their own country to maintain good relations with America.

What's going on here? A healthy dose of realism, most likely. Not many countries want to fall out with the world's only superpower. Even 90 percent of French respondents, who otherwise were highly critical of Bush and his policies, think the two nations should remain close.

The United States fared best among Russians, pleased to have America as a friend after decades of Cold War enmity, and Israelis, who "love" any U.S. president who is not "demonstratively hostile to the country," wrote Shmuel Rosner in Haaretz.

Rosner also notes that it is easy, if not necessarily correct, to conclude from the poll that attitudes toward the United States will change if Kerry is elected. In fact, some experts think global anger has been building for years over the widening gap between American power and the weakness of the rest of the world.

"Bush surely facilitated things for the world when he supplied it with many causes for surging anger," Rosner writes, "but he is not the real cause and certainly not the only one."

Among the poll's few bright spots is that citizens of other countries like Americans even if they don't like U.S. policies.

The survey did not include any Muslim or Arab nations, but Doris Norrito, a freelance journalist from Largo, says she found strikingly similar attitudes during a recent visit to Jordan. That country has been buffeted from two directions: by the war in Iraq to the east and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the west.

Although they think U.S. policies are unfair to Arabs, the many Jordanians she met - from a retired officer to Bedouin camel drivers - remain fond of Americans.

"They feel there are a lot of stereotypes that portray them in a poor light. They like Americans, and they desperately want people to go over there and see for themselves who they really are."

Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at

[Last modified October 20, 2004, 00:18:19]

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