By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
LONDON, Jan. 23 -- Global opinion of U.S. foreign policy has sharply deteriorated in the past two years, according to a BBC poll released on the eve of President Bush's annual State of the Union address.
Nearly three-quarters of those polled in 25 countries disapprove of U.S. policies toward Iraq, and more than two-thirds said the U.S. military presence in the Middle East does more harm than good. Nearly half of those polled in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East said the United States is now playing a mainly negative role in the world.
More than 26,000 people were questioned for the survey.
"It's been a horrible slide," said Doug Miller, president of GlobeScan, an international polling company that conducted the BBC survey with the Program on International Policy Attitudes, an affiliate of the University of Maryland. He said views of U.S. policy have steadily declined since the annual poll began two years ago.
In the 18 countries previously polled by the BBC, people who said the United States was having a generally positive influence in the world dropped to 29 percent, from 36 percent last year and 40 percent the year before.
"I thought it had bottomed out a year ago, but it's gotten worse, and we really are at historic lows," said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes. Kull attributed much of the problem to a growing perception of "hypocrisy" on the part of the United States in such areas as cooperation with the United Nations and other international bodies, especially involving the use of military force.
"The thing that comes up repeatedly is not just anger about Iraq," Kull said, adding that the BBC poll is consistent with numerous other surveys around the world that have measured attitudes toward the United States. "The common theme is hypocrisy. The reaction tends to be: 'You were a champion of a certain set of rules. Now you are breaking your own rules, so you are being hypocritical.' "
The BBC survey found that a majority of those polled hold negative views on U.S. policies on a wide range of issues. Sixty-seven percent disapproved of U.S. handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Sixty-five percent disliked the U.S. stance on last summer's military conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, 60 percent opposed U.S. policies on Iran's nuclear program, 56 percent opposed Washington's position on global climate change and 54 percent disapproved of U.S. policies toward North Korea.
"If this keeps up, it's going to be very difficult for the United States to exercise its moral suasion in the world," Miller said.
The survey of 26,381 people was conducted in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. The polling took place from November to January.
Although Prime Minister Tony Blair has been Bush's chief foreign ally in the Iraq war, British views of U.S. policies were particularly negative. Fifty-seven percent of Britons surveyed said the United States plays a mainly negative role in the world; 33 percent said the U.S. influence was mainly positive, down three percentage points from last year.
Eighty-one percent of Britons opposed U.S. actions in Iraq, while 72 percent said the U.S. military presence in the Middle East provokes more conflict than it prevents. Just 14 percent of Britons said the United States was a "stabilizing force" in the region.
Globally, the most common view in 23 of the 25 countries is that the United States is causing more Middle East conflict than it is preventing; the most common view in only one country, Nigeria, was that U.S. policies were "stabilizing" the region.
Views of U.S. foreign policy are also becoming more negative among U.S. citizens, the poll found. Of the 1,000 Americans surveyed, 57 percent said the United States is having a mainly positive influence in the world. That is down from 63 percent last year and 71 percent two years ago.