Anger at US deepens since war

A new poll finds fallout from the Iraq war, but some see an upside in Bush's trip.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

While visiting relatives in Egypt, Hassan Ibrahim was sent to a market to buy provisions for a family party. "Get some apples," the party's host told him, "just not any of the American apples. Those we boycott."

That was in 2001, but Mr. Ibrahim, director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, says if anything, the anti-American sentiment he sees in contacts with his native region has intensified - particularly since the war in Iraq.

"It has to do with the way people see America acting in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with America supporting the dictators they live under ... and now with the US occupying an Arab country," says Ibrahim. "They see no avenue for venting their frustrations."

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If President Bush was hoping to address America's poor standing in one of his longest and certainly most ambitious overseas trips, he has a long way yet to go.

Already having plunged after a blip of global sympathy due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, America's global image is falling further in the wake of the second show of military might in less than two years. In short, disdain for America is only deepening, especially in Arab countries - according to a new global poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Majorities in a growing number of Muslim countries fear an American military invasion, while many Europeans prefer an even more distant relationship between their country and the US.

Chance at redemption?

Yet while the news from the front in the US battle for the world's hearts and minds isn't good, there is also a budding enthusiasm: Some hope that Mr. Bush's new talk of international cooperation - and especially his assurances of personal involvement in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - will help return the shine to America's image in the world.

"Bush's new vision for peace in the Middle East and his putting his personal prestige on the line to see that progress is made is a very positive development in this effort to refurbish America's standing in the world," says Minxin Pei, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "It shows there is an awareness of the loss of moral authority America has suffered, particularly as a result of the war in Iraq."

The pictures of Bush bringing the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers together Wednesday for joint steps toward peace, plus Bush's earlier meeting in Egypt with Arab leaders, can't help but salve some of the deep skepticism about American intentions. But at the same time, hardened opinions like those revealed in the Pew poll suggest how arduous the road ahead for American diplomacy will be. "If you put the numbers the poll finds up against what [Bush] is trying to do, you see the difficulty of it," says Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of state in the Clinton administration and now chairs Pew's global attitudes project.

The post-Iraq-war poll of 16,000 people in 20 countries follows similar surveys last March and another last summer. Taken together, the surveys show opinions of America's role in the world falling like a roller coaster on the descent.

"The very bad news is that there is a great deal of collateral damage to public opinion from the war in Iraq," says Andrew Kohut, the Pew Center's director. "Most dramatically, the bottom has fallen out of support for America in most of the Muslim world. Antagonism toward the United States has both deepened and widened."

Bin Laden scores well

In addition to a heightened fear of a US military attack in countries ranging from Indonesia and Pakistan to Turkey and Jordan, large numbers of Muslims expressed confidence that Osama bin Laden, the Islamic extremist suspected of planning Sept. 11, does "the right thing" in world affairs.

The poll found softening support worldwide for the war on terrorism. And in addition to the US specifically, international institutions symbolizing the world's efforts at collective security - such as the United Nations and NATO - have also lost esteem.

Yet while the reputation of those institutions has suffered, at the same time people around the globe continue to aspire to such values as democracy, universal human rights, and the rule of law.

Those aspirations provide an opportunity for the US to win support by promoting values it considers its own, experts say. But how to do that while working with some of the very regimes people reject as authoritarian - as is the case with some of the Arab countries whose leaders Bush embraced in Egypt this week - presents the US with a minefield.

"It's a real conundrum for the administration," says Hurst Hannum at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. "But it's essential they find a way to be critical of these regimes - in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt - to promote change without alienating them entirely."

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