The Roots of American Unpopularity

According to this year’s Pew Global Attitudes Project, the percentage of people with a favorable opinion of the United States has fallen in all but a handful of countries over the last five years (the winner is Turkey, where only 3 percent of the population has confidence in the U.S.). The interesting part is that the roots of discontent appear to run a lot deeper than the war in Iraq or recent actions by the Bush administration.

After serving on a discussion panel in London that turned into an “extended round-robin denunciation of American foreign policy,” Robert Kagan wrote in the Washington Post that there was almost no mention of Bush or the war in Iraq among critics of the United States. Instead, he writes, the criticism focused on “American policy during the Cold War for imposing evil regimes, causing poverty and suffering throughout the world, and blocking national liberation movements as a service to oil companies and multinational corporations.”

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune found that the United States’ handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict concerned people at least as much as the war in Iraq. Some interviewees in Muslim countries told the Tribune that the contrast between the “blind eye” that the US turns to Israeli strikes on Palestinians and its condemnations of Palestinians who launch their own attacks “shows that the West is biased in dealing with Muslims.” That doesn’t mean the Iraq war is insignificant in affecting opinions (indeed, it’s one major reason for the United States’ plummeting popularity), although in truth it probably doesn’t matter—it’s hardly the shot in the arm that America’s image abroad clearly needs.