American Image Continues Decline Abroad genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Evidence continues to mount that the world holds an increasingly negative view of America and Americans. In the past, polling seemed to indicate that many abroad held a dislike of American policies but remained favorable towards the American citizenry. Unfortunately, that distinction seems to be evaporating. According to an article from the Newhouse News Service, "America's image problem is pervasive, deep, and perhaps permanent, analysts say - an inevitable outcome of being the world's only superpower." Read the full article here.

WASHINGTON -- The United States has often irritated the rest of the world, but lately it's gotten worse -- and more dangerous.

In increasing numbers, people around the globe resent American power and wealth and reject specific actions like the occupation of Iraq and the campaign against democratically elected Palestinian leaders, in-depth international polling shows.

Polls now show an ominous turn. Majorities around the world think Americans are greedy, violent and rude, and fewer than half in countries like Poland, Spain, Canada, China and Russia think Americans are honest.

"We found a rising antipathy toward Americans," said Bruce Stokes of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which interviewed 93,000 people in 50 countries over a four-year time span.

This new trend towards a diminished distinction between American policies and the sentiment of the American voter is one I witnessed while traveling abroad. I began my trip in November of 2004 just after the election. Numerous individuals asked me what the American public was thinking in reelecting President Bush. The not so subtle insinuation was that the results raised doubts as to the thinking and judgment of the American public. Time and again I pointed out the closeness of the vote and the deep divisions that characterized the election...but I saw skepticism each time I attempted to outline the nuances.

In talking with numerous individuals throughout Europe, I was repeatedly asked what was happening in America. The general line of reasoning seemed to be an assertion that in reelecting George Bush, it was increasingly difficult to give Americans the benefit of the doubt. The growing resentment was palpable despite my explanations. As I've said in other postings, I don't condone the across the board generalizations that I did encounter...but I do accept the growing cynicism. On the bright side, I found that most people were willing to engage in a rational give and take dialogue.

Almost half of those polled in Britain, France and Germany dispute the whole concept of a global war on terrorism, and a majority of Europeans believe the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. More than two-thirds of Germans, French and Turks believe American leaders lied about the reasons for war and believe the United States is less trustworthy than it once was.

Asked where to find the "good life," no more than one in 10 people recommended the United States in a poll conducted in 13 countries, Kohut said. More popular: Canada, Australia, Britain and Germany. Only in India did the United States still represent the land of opportunity, he found.

The United States spends about $1 billion a year on international broadcasting and the public relations campaign it calls "public diplomacy," run out of the State Department by former top Bush campaign operative Karen Hughes.

As I've tried to digest the long term implications of this data, it seems clear to me that the outcome in Iraq and the region will have a huge impact on the future perceptions of America and Americans. Despite the growing opposition to the war by a majority of Americans I fear that, absent a favorable outcome, all Americans will be held accountable in the eyes of many around the world. Whatever supply of goodwill we may have previously held is now perilously limited. That's unfortunate.

Daniel DiRito | May 22, 2006 | 9:43 AM
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1 On May 23, 2006 at 9:39 PM, Archie - formerly Archimedes wrote —

Isn't it nice to be able to have a conversation about politics with another human? In the past year the only people I've met who I could actually converse with about politics have been from other countries: an Australian and a Canadian. Their ease and comfort with the topic was ... well, I sort of envy them for living in a not-freaked-out country.

Here, OTOH, most people are afraid to talk about it. Between the trivialization of the politics as spectator sport and the over-the-top mud storm of media discourse, "mainstream" Americans are hiding under the covers. When I explain that politics isn't just a horse race, it's about real things, most people look for the door or change the subject.

"Here we are now, entertainment us" -Nirvana

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