U.S. Has Severe Image Problem in Much of Europe, Poll Finds

Times Staff Writer

The march to war with Iraq has severely tarnished America's image abroad, even in countries whose governments have joined President Bush's "coalition of the willing," a new independent survey in eight nations has found.

The survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that a majority of the public in each of the nations -- Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy, Poland and Turkey -- continues to oppose participation in the invasion of Iraq that appears imminent.

At the same time, the poll found that positive attitudes toward the United States have plummeted in all of the countries, while disapproval of Bush's approach to foreign policy has soared.

"This is the most negative [international] public opinion about America and an American president that I've ever seen," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew project.

Quick success in a war against Iraq may soften these attitudes, Kohut said. But he believes that even military victory is unlikely to eliminate them because they are rooted in fundamental anxieties about the way America is exercising its might as the globe's sole superpower.

It was telling, he noted, that opinions remain so negative toward the United States generally and the war specifically even though pluralities in most of the countries said they believe that the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would improve the quality of life for his people and stability in the Middle East.

"I think that the divide between the way America looks at and deals with world problems and the way our allies look at it is something very significant and is here to stay," Kohut said. "People are suspicious of our power and resentful of our power, and we seem to be flaunting it."

The bad feelings appear to be mutual: In a CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll released Monday, positive impressions among Americans of France, Germany and Russia -- whose leaders have opposed a war -- have fallen sharply from earlier this year.

But those tensions don't reach the level of antagonism evident from Europeans in the Pew poll, which was conducted from last week through Monday. The survey has a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points in Britain and 5 percentage points in the seven other nations.

In none of the countries did a majority of the respondents say they have a favorable opinion of the United States. In most, lopsided majorities said they view the United States unfavorably: 84% felt that way in Turkey, 71% in Germany, 68% in Russia and 67% in France.

America's image was strongly negative even in Spain (74%) and Italy (59%), whose governments are supporting Bush on Iraq. Only in Britain -- where Prime Minister Tony Blair has been Bush's key ally -- did the percentage of respondents who view America favorably (48%) exceed those with unfavorable views (40%).

The widespread negative attitudes are explained in part by another finding in the poll: In every nation except Britain, at least a plurality said they believe that American foreign policy now has a negative effect on their country.

Those feelings were most widespread in Turkey and France, where more than 60% said U.S. foreign policy affects them negatively. Nearly 60% felt that way in Germany and Russia; 52% agreed in Italy, as did 49% in Spain and 41% in Poland.

Asked directly whether they approve of Bush's international policies, majorities in all the countries -- ranging from 87% in France and 79% in Spain to 60% in Britain and 54% in Poland -- said no.

Likewise, majorities in the four countries participating in Bush's "coalition of the willing" said they oppose their governments joining in an attack on Iraq; that sentiment ranged from 51% in Britain to 73% in Poland and 81% in both Italy and Spain.

In the four countries whose governments oppose the war -- France, Germany, Turkey and Russia -- majorities of two-thirds or greater said they are against an attack.

Also, majorities of the respondents in Russia, Turkey, Spain, Italy, France and Germany -- and pluralities in Poland and Britain -- said Europe should take a more independent approach to foreign policy rather than remain "as close as it has been" to the U.S.

The White House did not directly respond to the results of the survey. But appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney argued that the United States faces so much resistance to war on Iraq because "the rest of the world really hasn't had to come to grips" with the implications of the Sept. 11 attacks to the degree that America has.

Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century, a conservative think tank, said it shouldn't be surprising that the United States faces skepticism abroad, because the doctrine of preemptive war that Bush is advancing represents "a real sea change in international relations."

But Schmitt said the poll results are a warning sign that America needs "a strategy for repairing" relations with its traditional allies. "It matters a whole lot, because we have set out a pretty aggressive agenda very similar in scale to what the Cold War was about, and ... it will be a lot easier and a lot more helpful if we had democratic allies fully committed to the same strategy," he said.

Ivo Daalder, a National Security Council aide under President Clinton, said the intense opposition to U.S. policies evident in the poll may encourage more European politicians to run on anti-American platforms, as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder did in his reelection campaign last year.

And that, Daalder said, could eventually translate into government decisions to loosen alliances with America.

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