Thursday, May 18, 2006

American credibility eroding

I can't say I'm surprised at this, but this report says America's image problem is getting worse.

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.

America's image problem is pervasive, deep and perhaps permanent, analysts say -- an inevitable outcome of being the world's only superpower.

But there is worse news. In the past, while Europeans and Asians and Arabs might have disliked American policies or specific U.S. leaders, they liked and admired Americans themselves.

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.

Lots of people, myself included, have pointed to this as one of the main drawbacks to the Bush administration's go-it-alone foreign policy. Fighting an enemy as amorphous as terrorism requires international cooperation. Bush's first term was marked by constant and at times deliberate snubbing of both proven and potential allies, with the invasion of Iraq marking a pinnacle of sorts. That not only squandered good will; it damaged our ability to track terrorists and deny them safe havens.

Keeping the peace, winning the war on terrorism and other critical goals are achievable "only if people like you and trust you," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

Kind of a "duh" moment, you'd think. But this administration has only belatedly realized it. Now even our allies aren't thrilled with us.

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.

What bothers me is that the study says the problem isn't just Bush; many foreigners have come to believe that the problem is Americans themselves. So it will take more than one election to overcome that.

Obviously, we shouldn't focus solely on winning popularity contests. Sometimes the right thing or the necessary thing isn't the popular thing. But we also shouldn't go out of our way to antagonize other countries, as we have done; we shouldn't appear to be hypocrites, as we have done; and we should listen with an open mind to what other countries have to say, even if we don't always heed their advice. That's what builds bridges and creates allies instead of enemies.

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