Opinion | Columnists

America in the eyes of the world: Unpopular and discredited

Respondents in a YouGov/Gulf News survey have no doubt that the policies of the current US administration have made the world a worse place to live in.

  • By Najla Al Rostamani, Associate Editor
  • Published: 00:00 July 4, 2006
  • Gulf News

It was 9/11 and the ensuing US-led global "war on terror" that very much changed the world since 2001. Between the illusive and the real, the myth and the reality, America's self-defined campaign against terrorism has not always received full endorsement or support by the rest of the world.

So much so that Americans at one point asked "Why do they hate us?" as much as the world today questions "Why does the US continue with flawed policies?"

According to a YouGov/Gulf News survey carried out in June, respondents had no doubt that the policies of the current US administration had made the world a worse place to live in.

A whopping 70 per cent believed so, regardless of their nationality. Only a handful (7 per cent) expressed the exact opposite opinion. This overall dismay was seen across the different age and income groups, gender and religious conviction.

Even respondents who had expressed their liking of Americans and their belief in the US as being the only superpower harboured the same sentiments.

Low confidence in a superpower

In fact, the negative sentiments about the US and its policies were so strong that the majority of respondents showed a lack of confidence in the superpower's ability to resolve the problems faced by the world today. A total of 37 per cent of respondents said they were "unconfident" while 31 per cent said they were "very unconfident".

The critical perceptions are to be expected, given what has taken place on a global scale five years on since 9/11. It has very much to do with the extent to which the attacks shocked and shook America's confidence in itself as a superpower as much as how the country fulfils its role as a superpower.

Disagreement on foreign policy

For the past few years, US policy has been dictated by the rise in the influence of the neo-conservative right, which has left a global trail of cynicism and criticism.

From a war in Afghanistan to an invasion of Iraq, from the Abu Ghraib scandal to the implementation of ultra-extreme security measures in the name of national security, rights were infringed and abuse took place on various scales.

Hence, according to the survey, a majority expressed their disagreement of US foreign policy on countries where the US today is directly involved, especially in the Middle East.

A total of 83 per cent of respondents said that current American policies and actions were resulting in greater instability in the Middle East and the Arab world. This high percentage was consistent across various nationalities, age and income groups, as well as gender.

When asked about specific countries (Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and North Korea), most respondents expressed their disagreement on how the US is handling issues pertaining to each country.

The only exception was in the cases of India and Pakistan, where almost a third of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with how the US was dealing with both nations.

Furthermore, Arab respondents showed a staggering majority in objecting to US policies. The only exception was in the case of North Korea, India and Pakistan where almost a third of the respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with American policies with regard to these countries.

Interestingly enough, it was Western respondents who showed relative agreement with US foreign policy with regard to Afghanistan (29 per cent) and with North Korea (22 per cent).

Damaged image

The image of the US today is nowhere close to being rosy. A significant majority of respondents believe that on a global scale the US is neither credible nor popular. A total of 89 per cent said the country under Bush has lost credibility while 86 per cent said it has lost popularity. This opinion was consistent regardless of the gender, age or income groups.

Arab and Western respondents, interestingly, shared strong views on this question. Among Arab respondents, a staggering 92 per cent said the US has lost credibility while 94 per cent said it has lost popularity.

US as a global power

But did this affect the country's position as a global power? Answers were mixed.

A total of 52 per cent of respondents said that under the Bush administration the country had lost power globally. Yet a significant 27 per cent said that it has gained power while 21 per cent said they did not know.

Not the sole superpower

Respondents were almost equally divided on the opinion of whether the US is now the world's only superpower or not.

A total of 45 per cent believed that it is indeed, while a total of 51 per cent did not perceive it as such.

The latter group believed that other countries are also eligible to be categorised as such.

Interestingly, though, it was only among Arab respondents that there was a clear majority (58 per cent) who believed the US is indeed the world's sole superpower.

In addition, a little over half the respondents belonging to the age group of 30-39 years and below did not perceive the US as the sole superpower, while those in the older age group of 40-50 years and above believed the opposite.

Competing superpowers

So who is competing with the US on the global superpower position?

Those respondents who refused to label the US as the world's only superpower foresaw China as being another contender (74 per cent) followed by the European Union (48 per cent) and Russia (39 per cent).

Interestingly, the chronology of contenders as such was exactly the same among all groups (Arabs, Westerners, Asians and others).

The only difference was seen amongst Asian respondents, where they had ranked Russia alongside India.

Bush as world leader

There seem to be a correlation between how respondents perceived US policies and their opinion of Bush's leadership. His performance drastically failed to receive high ratings as 83 per cent of respondents described it as being poor. Specifically, of this percentage, 22 per cent said he is a "pretty poor" leader while 61 per cent said he is a "very poor" leader.

Reason for loss of popularity

Bush's unpopularity was attributed to flawed policy and strategy in dealing with world issues, which received teh highest rating (70 per cent). Other reasons listed by respondents were Bush's "stupidity" (64 per cent) and the bad advisers surrounding him (62 per cent).

But on this question, there was a clear difference between the various nationalities as to what had diminished Bush's popularity.

For Arab respondents, Bush was unpopular because of his "stupidity" (72 per cent), for Westerners (75 per cent) and Asians (68 per cent) it was because of his flawed policy/strategy.

Clinton vs Bush

In fact, Bush's performance was seen so negatively that respondents were clearly in favour of former president Bill Clinton in comparison.

A total of 72 per cent of respondents thought Clinton had done more good for the American people.

Republican contender

So would the Bush administration's performance influence the entry of yet another Republican to the White House in the next elections?

According to the respondents, Bush's poor performance would indeed harm the chances of Republicans in 2008. A total of 41 per cent said the Bush administration's performance means that Republicans will probably lose the next elections.

American culture and the world

It should be noted that the overall negative perception of the policies as well as the image of Bush's administration by no means reflect or influence how respondents perceive American culture in general (this would include fast-food restaurants, popular music, home computers, Hollywood movies, space travel, etc).

A total of 47 per cent of respondents believed American culture neither made the world better nor worse. In fact, a good 31 per cent said it made it a better place to live in.

Furthermore, a total of 42 per cent said that, generally speaking, they liked Americans a "little" while 21 per cent said that they did not "like them much".

These results are also indicative of the fact that respondents are clear in their objection to American foreign policy, which does not necessarily mean that they do not accept Americans as a people or their culture.

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