Regarding America

A new world survey suggests that the USA is it, but its ideals are out.

Josie Appleton

Topics Politics

A new global opinion survey by the Pew Research Center, of 38,000 people in 44 countries, seems to indicate that America is losing friends (1).

Over the past two years, ‘favourability ratings’ for the USA have declined, not just in the Middle East, but also among America’s European allies. The number of people in Western Europe who look upon American favourably fell by five to six percentage points in the past three years.

Americans might be surprised to discover that their most loyal ally is Uzbekistan, where 85 percent gave America their support – closely followed by the Ukraine, with 80 percent support. Only six percent of the Egyptian public gave a favourable opinion of the USA.

But while these results may suggest an ambivalence about American power, they don’t show an opposition to America’s global rule. Increasing numbers of people seem to be suspicious of America’s motives, while accepting US dominance.

There is still fairly high support for the US-led war on terror (except in parts of the Middle East) – 70 percent in Germany, 69 percent in the UK, 75 percent in France, 75 percent in Nigeria. This suggests a widespread acceptance that terrorism represents a global threat, and that – as the world’s strongest nation – the USA should lead the charge against it.

Few nations want to see a challenger to America’s unipolar position. Majorities in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Western Europe, Canada and Russia all agree that a rival superpower would make the world a more dangerous place. Countries may be looking less favourably upon the USA, but they don’t necessarily support any major change to the status quo.

This ambivalence about America comes out particularly in relation to Iraq. Large majorities think that Iraq is a great danger to the world – 82 percent in Germany, 67 percent in France, 85 percent in the UK. And they agree that Saddam Hussein ‘must be removed’ – 75 percent in Germany and 75 percent in the UK.

Yet many are deeply suspicious of America’s motives for dealing with Saddam. In France, 75 percent think that America wants to gain control of Iraqi oil. And there is large-scale scepticism about toppling Saddam by force – 71 percent of Germans oppose using force in Iraq. This looks more like a criticism of aggressive American methods, than an opposition to American intervention in foreign affairs.

Across the world, many people still seem to admire US achievements. Many praise America’s technological and scientific advances – more than 80 percent in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. People also express a liking of American popular culture – 76 percent in Britain, 65 percent in Lebanon and 66 percent in Germany.

Yet when these influences are given a vaguely ideological bent, in the question about the spread of ‘American ideas and customs’, attraction turns to repulsion – only 39 percent in the UK, 28 percent in Germany and 26 percent in Lebanon say that this is a ‘good’ thing. The ideals and habits associated with America, the pinnacle of modern capitalism, are failing to win the hearts and minds of the world elsewhere.

What these results suggest is that while America has won the battle for economic and military dominance – it remains unrivalled both in terms of GDP and military capability – it is losing the cultural struggle. No wonder self-image has become one of its major millennial concerns.

Read on:

Imagining America, by Josie Appleton

The anti-American dream, by Jennie Bristow

(1) See What the World Thinks in 2002, 4 December 2002

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Topics Politics


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