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World Opinion of U.S. May Shift


Many people around the world who oppose the war in Iraq are welcoming the upcoming political power shift brought on by this month's midterm U.S. Congressional elections. Most experts note that voters were calling for a change in America's Iraq policy. And for some analysts, the change in the U.S. political landscape could temper international anti-American sentiment.

In early January, opposition Democrats will take control of both houses of the U.S. Congress, which has been in Republican hands for most of the past 14 years. Many analysts say this month's Congressional elections were largely a referendum on the war in Iraq. They note that in many parts of the world, it is hoped that the new Congress will bring a change in American foreign policy. Critics argue that American national security strategy since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States has created more instability in some parts of the world and often overridden the interests of American friends and allies.

An Unfavorable Turn

A series of global public opinion surveys show that America's image abroad has slipped since the U.S.-led military action began in Iraq in 2003. Some polls indicated that favorable views of America have declined even in countries closest to the United States. In Great Britain, for example, one of America's chief allies, public support for the U.S. has fallen from 87 percent in 2002 to 56 percent this year.

But Richard Wike, Senior Director for the Global Attitudes Project at the Pew Research Center, says the new political landscape in Washington could temper anti-Americanism around the world.

"Certainly the perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally has been one of the major drivers of anti-American sentiment in many parts of the world. To the extent that the administration might change course or that U.S. policy might become multilateralist, that might be one factor that would potentially drive more positive attitudes about the U.S. in many parts of the world," says Wike.

Some analysts agree that many nations prefer a multilateral approach to American foreign policy. Among them is Steven Kull, Director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

"There is an underlying support for the type of world order that the United States has long been a champion of, the world order that was established in the post-World War II period. There has been, however, a perception that the United States has significantly departed from those principles in a variety of ways. Going into Iraq without approval of the U.N. Security Council is probably the largest single factor," says Kull.

European Opinion

Still, most of the time, people throughout the world view Americans and their government's policies differently. John Glenn is Director of Foreign Policy at the German Marshall Fund, which conducts annual public opinion surveys of American and European attitudes. He says most Europeans see the Democratic Party's Congressional victory as reflecting widespread U.S. discontent with America's Iraq policy.

"Europeans have continued to distinguish their views of Americans or views of the United States more generally from views of President Bush. But there has always been about a 20 percent gap, where the United States is perceived more positively than the President," says Glenn. "I would expect more positive views for the United States and, I think, the elections for the first time show that Americans as well as the Europeans have mixed feelings, ambivalence and concerns about the war in Iraq."

Glenn notes that, at the time, Europeans saw the re-election of President Bush in 2004 as the American electorate's validation of a more assertive foreign policy. He says that now, Europeans and the rest of the world view this month's Congressional elections as part of the American political process.

"It is a system that can appear immune to outrage. 'Oh, things are terrible in Iraq, therefore how come things don't change now?' But it's designed for that purpose. It's designed to allow Americans to have a more reasoned chance to look at everything in a regular period of time -- every two years. It takes longer and that can be frustrating, especially when perceived from outside. But it really reflects a very conscious decision about the way the U.S. political system was designed and set up," says Glenn.

Public opinion surveys consistently show that American ideals and principles have global support and that many nations want to emulate them. Political psychologist and pollster, Stephen Kull of the University of Maryland notes that American democratic values are embraced, even in countries that have been most critical of U.S. policies.

"There was some polling done in the Middle East asking what negative feelings they have toward the U.S. 'Is it about U.S. policies or U.S. values?' It came to about eight in ten that it was U.S. policies. The idea that they don't like U.S. principles regarding freedom or democracy does not hold out in polling. And support for democracy is quite high throughout the world, including the Middle East," says Kull.

Americans and their Government

However, a recent University of Maryland survey found that a large majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the United States' image. The poll finds that most Americans believe that U.S. policies are decreasing goodwill toward the United States. And most Americans feel that the U.S. overly relies on unilateral and military action.

Analyst Stephen Kull says a majority Americans support the United States' leading military role in the world, but want to balance it with diplomacy, foreign aid and humanitarian assistance. He says an overwhelming majority of Americans want to be regarded as upstanding world citizens.

"Over all, 79 percent agreed with the position that we should think in terms of being a good neighbor with other countries because cooperative relationships are ultimately in the best interest to the U.S. Only 16 percent agreed with the position that we should not worry about what others think, but just think in terms of what's best for the United States because the world is a rough place," says Kull.

In the end, many analysts say, surveys and opinion polls show that Americans and most of the world have much more that unites them than divides them.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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