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US Role in the World

Americans' Assessments of World Public Opinion on the United States

Large majorities believe that the US is viewed negatively by people in other countries and see this as derived primarily from the current US foreign policy not American values. Most see goodwill towards the United States as important for US national security. Most Americans believe that people around the world are growing more afraid that the US will use force against them and that this diminishes US national security and increases the likelihood that countries will pursue WMDs.

Large majorities in the US perceive that the United States is viewed negatively by the rest of the world. The September 2006 Public Agenda poll asked, "How do you think the rest of the world sees the United States?" Sixty four percent answered that the world views the United States either somewhat (32%) or very negatively (32%). Only 24% said they believe the US is viewed positively while 8% said that views were "neutral or mixed." The same poll found that 73% worried somewhat (39%) or a lot (34%) that "The US may be losing the trust and friendship of people in other countries." Just 26% said they did not worry about this happening.[1]

This negativity is largely attributed to the Bush foreign policy. Asked in a WPO/KN October 2006 poll whether the way the Bush administration has been conducting US foreign policy, on balance, has increased or decreased "goodwill toward the US", 78% said it had decreased goodwill and just 18% said it had increased.[2]

Americans tend to believe that dislike of the US stems from its policies rather than an inherent dislike of American values. Asked in the October 2006 WPO/KN poll if negative attitudes toward the United States in the Middle East were based mostly on their "dislike of American values" or "dislike of American policies in the Middle East," more than 62% said that dislike of American policies in the region were largely responsible. Only one-third (34%) said that it was dislike of American values.[3]

Negative views of the US concern Americans. A September 2006 Public Agenda survey found 87% saying it that it was important to US national security that "the rest of the world sees the United States positively." A WPO/KN October 2006 poll showed nine out of 10 (87%) saying it is very (47%) or somewhat (40%) important "for people in other countries to feel goodwill toward the United States." [4]

Even when given counter-arguments against viewing goodwill as an important factor, a very large majority continues to affirm its value as a tool for US security, rather than something that would inhibit pursuit of US goals. The November 2006 WPO/KN poll presented respondents with two arguments: 1) "Goodwill toward the US is important in order to obtain cooperation in dealing with important threats to US security, and because...hostility towards the US can lead people to actively work against the US." 2) "Goodwill is not really critical for the US because it is so much stronger than all other countries. Trying to be popular can tie the US's hands and distract the US from pursuing its security." A very large majority-80 percent-rejected the view that the United States was so strong it did not need to be concerned about maintaining other countries' goodwill. Only 17 percent saw goodwill as not critical for US security.[5]

Americans believe that people around the world increasingly view the US as a military threat. The November 2006 WPO/KN poll found that 63% assumed that over the last few years countries around the world have grown more afraid that the United States will use force against them.[6]

A majority views this growing fear of US military power as negative for US security, even when presented the argument, sometimes made in policy circles, that fearing American military power will make other countries more responsive to US preferences. Respondents were asked whether "as a general rule, if leaders of some countries grow more afraid that the US will use military force against them," on balance, this tends to be good for US security because such leaders are "more likely to refrain from doing things the US does not want them to do", or bad for US security "because it makes them seek out new means of protecting themselves from the US, such as acquiring weapons of mass destruction." By a two-to-one margin (63% to 33%), a majority thought that rising fear of US force was bad for US security (WPO/KN November 2006).[7]

When asked, in a later question, “if leaders of some countries grow more afraid that the US will use military force against them, this tends to increase or decrease the likelihood that countries will try to acquire weapons of mass destruction,” a very large 80 percent said it increased the likelihood foreign governments would pursue WMD.[8]

Consistent with this majority perception that other countries have become more afraid of the United States, three out of five also think the world sees the United States as both a strong leader and a bully. While two-thirds (66%) in a September 2006 Public Agenda poll agreed that other countries see the United States "as a strong leader," 63% also said they believe that people in other countries see the United States as a bully.[9]


 

 

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