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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Annotating the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project survey 


The Pew Research Center released its latest Pew Global Attitudes Project survey(pdf) yesterday afternoon. It is the fifth such survey taken since 2002, the first four of which are discussed in the book America Against the World: How We Are Different and Why We Are Disliked by Andrew Kohut, the Pew Center's director, and consultant Bruce Stokes.

Today's survey report (which effectively updates the book, but which you can read alone) is a review essay describing the most interesting results of a survey of almost 17,000 people in 15 nations, March-May 2006. The Pew report describes changes in attitudes about the United States, Americans as people, the war on terror, Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, the threat of Iran, the present government of Iran and various issues of allegedly global import. The New York Times and other American media outlets spin the top line results, which is that "the global image of the U.S. is worsening," but the report is actually chock full o' data worth chewing on.

My purpose in this post is to discuss a few points that were not highlighted in the Pew executive summary or the media coverage. I'll follow the sections in the Pew Report, focusing on the bits that most interested me.

I. America's Image and U.S. Foreign Policy

Meanwhile, Japan and China, two neighboring Asian rivals with long histories of conflict, hold very negative opinions of one another. Slightly more than a quarter of Japanese (28%) have a positive opinion of China, and even fewer Chinese (21%) have a favorable view of Japan. On the other hand, traditional European rivals Germany and France rate one another quite positively; in fact, both rate the other country more favorably than their own.


Much as we might mock the European Union and its bureaucratic internationalism, the EU and its institutional ancestors (the "Common Market" and so forth) have achieved their first and most essential purpose, in that they put an end to the long string of ruinous wars between France and Germany. Even today, with no uniting Soviet threat from the east, the Germans and the French say they respect each other, a remarkable achievement in peacemaking. Compare that to the low regard of the Chinese for the Japanese and vice versa. However bureaucratic the EU may be, it has achieved the most important objective of its founders.

Turmoil in France over the last year – riots by immigrants and others last fall, as well as protests in February through April of this year over an attempt to change French labor law – appears to have taken a toll on France’s image. In every country where trends are available – with one exception – the image of France has declined significantly since 2005....

The lone exception is the U.S., where 52% now have a favorable impression of France... [which] is considerably more popular now among Americans than in May 2003, when only 29% gave France a favorable grade.


It seems to me that there are three likely reasons for this change. First, Americans have short memories and do not bear grudges. As the indignities of 2002 and 2003 faded, France's favorability rating was bound to go up. Second, France has supported American foreign policy initiatives in the last year, including in Lebanon against Syria and in the confrontation with Iran. Some Americans may have noticed. Third -- and this will be tough for conservatives to swallow -- many more Americans may have decided that France was "right" about Iraq back in 2003.

Support for the American-led "war on terror" is in decline around the world, but the country trends are interesting:



Support for the "war on terror" remains relatively high in both Russia and India, which are both important front line states. The India numbers are particularly critical, because India is the indispensable power in the Indian Ocean, which today is far more important to American interests than either the Atlantic or the Pacific. Andrew Kohut and his friends (Madeleine Albright wrote the forward to his book) strike me as die-hard Atlanticists in tone, so it does not surprise me that they did not highlight this point. (Indeed, America Against The World does not mention India in the text more than once, which is astonishing given that they had the data.)

The collapse of support for the war on terror in Spain compared to much gentler declines elsewhere in Europe is interesting, especially in light of the 3/11 attacks. Spain also has uniquely low support (7%) for the proposition that the "war in Iraq to remove Saddam made the world a safer place" -- even France and Germany can muster 20% agreement with that statement. It may be that the Spanish subscribe to the lefty idea that the jihad is blowback from American policy with particular intensity. But why?

The world is also very pessimistic about "efforts to establish democracy in Iraq." Here again, the table is interesting:



Pessimism over Iraq's prospects seems closely related to the previous "safer place" question with a couple of notable exceptions. By and large, they are in the Muslim world. People in Pakistan, Jordan, Indonesia and Egypt (but not Turkey, the Muslim country in the survey with the greatest history of democracy and -- I speculate -- the most contempt for Arabs) are three times as likely to believe that democracy will succeed in Iraq than they are to believe that the world is safer because of the war (although still only about a third are optimistic). Is this because Muslims have greater confidence in Iraqis than do Europeans, or is it that they just don't associate democracy with safety the way Westerners do?

II. Iran And The Nuclear Question

Beyond the immediate issue of Iran’s nuclear program, there is widespread sentiment – especially in the West – that countries that do not have nuclear weapons should be prevented from developing them. Overwhelming majorities in Germany (91%), Japan (87%) and France (85%) say non-nuclear countries should be prevented from developing nuclear weapons. Roughly three-quarters in Great Britain (77%), the United States (74%), and Russia (73%) also say that countries that do not have nuclear weapons should be prevented from developing such weapons.

This result exposes an obscured fault line in the bloc confronting Iran, of which I have written before: the continental Europeans are most concerned about the principle of non-proliferation, whereas the United States is more worried about the nature of the government controlling the weapons. That having been said, there is a great deal of popular concern about Iran in Europe right now. In major industrial countries, with the curious exception of Great Britain, "large majorities express the opinion that the goal of Iran's nuclear program is nuclear weapons." In fact, a slightly higher proportion of French (74%) believe this than Americans (72%). Similarly, the French and Germans have a much more negative view of Iran than the British, or even the Americans:




Why are France and Germany -- both of which have sold lots of dangerous dual use technology to Iran (especially Germany) -- so negative on the country compared to the United States? Speculating a bit, I can imagine several possible explanations. First, Jacques Chirac has been very tough on Iran, both rhetorically and actually. He has ordered the Force de frappe (which sounds like a great milkshake in Boston but which is actually the French nuclear strike capability) to re-target against Tehran. He has also been, by all accounts, tougher-than-thou in his fulminating about Tehran, which some people attribute to his desire to repair relations with the United States. Note that other data in the poll show that Chirac is more respected in Germany than in France, so this may have had an impact on German public opinion as well. Second, Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial may have made it un-PC in Germany to say anything positive about Iran.

The good news in these numbers is that there ought to be a lot of popular support in France, Germany and Japan for sanctions against Iran when negotiations break down.

Why are the British less negative on Iran? First, the British have an unusually deep history in Iran. Perhaps there is still residual post-colonial affection for the place. Second -- and this reason strikes me as more likely -- the Brits are worried that their government will follow the United States into another unpopular and costly war.

Finally, note that Iran is viewed much more favorably in the Muslim world. At the risk of being reductionist, may I suggest that this is evidence that the vaunted Shia-Sunni schism runs only so deep.

There are some startling data about Iran's intentions if it does get nuclear weapons. Huge numbers of people, including majorities in most Western countries and some Muslim countries, believe that Iran will either give weapons to terrorists (which I believe is unlikely) or attack the United States, Europe or Israel:

There is no consensus about what Iran would be likely to do if it in fact develops nuclear weapons. But Americans and Western Europeans generally believe that two cataclysmic scenarios are likely – that Iran would provide nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations, and that it would attack Israel.

Large majorities in the U.S. and Western Europe, as well as about half of Japanese (52%), say that if Iran develops nuclear weapons it would be likely to provide them to terrorist groups. An Iranian attack on Israel also is viewed as likely by most Americans and Western Europeans.

The publics in predominantly Muslim countries mostly believe a nuclear-armed Iran would use such weapons for defensive purposes only. Fully 80% of Indonesians and smaller majorities in other Muslim countries say Iran is likely to use nuclear weapons only in its own defense. In addition, relatively small minorities in all five Muslim countries surveyed feel that Iran is likely to pass along nuclear weapons to terrorists.

At the same time, however, more than six-in-ten in Jordan (65%) and Egypt (61%) say that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it would be likely to attack Israel; about half of Turks (51%) and Indonesians (49%) agree. And in Jordan and Egypt, in particular, sizable minorities favor Iran actually acquiring nuclear weapons (45% and 44%, respectively).

There also is a widespread belief, in Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike, that a nuclear-armed Iran is likely to attack the United States or European nations. Two-thirds of Spaniards (66%) and nearly as many Americans (63%) say such an attack is likely. Roughly half of the respondents in France, Germany and Britain – as well as in Turkey, Indonesia and Jordan – say an attack by Iran on the U.S. or Europe is likely.


The implications of this table are, to say the least, startling. Huge numbers of Westerners believe that Iran would use nuclear weapons offensively. That belief alone is remarkable, given the alleged opposition to pre-emptive military action against Iran (recognizing that much of that opposition may be on practical grounds, or reflect rank anti-Americanism). In point of fact, opposition to pre-emptive military action, even in Europe, may not be as deep as the media would have us believe.

The intersection of opinions in Jordan and Egypt, two countries that have made peace with Israel in form even if not in attitude, is perhaps the most troubling data in the survey. In both countries around 45% of the population actually favor Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and sizable majorities (65% and 61%, respectively) believe that Iran would use those weapons to attack Israel. Pew does not give us the data, but it is virtually certain that a significant percentage of the population in both Jordan and Egypt want Iran to get nuclear weapons so that it will attack Israel. Should we be surprised that the New York Times decided not to report this fairly newsworthy data? No, but we should be disappointed.

III. Global Issues And Concerns

In this category, the most unexpected data reflect the rising popularity of Israel in Western Europe.

In past Global Attitudes surveys, the American public’s strong pro-Israel stance set it apart from other countries. But that has changed as Germans, in particular, have become much more sympathetic to Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.

Nearly four-in-ten Germans (37%) say they sympathize with Israel in the Mideast conflict compared with 18% who sympathize with the Palestinians. In March 2004, Germans’ sympathies were evenly divided (24% Israel, 24% Palestinians).

The French also have become more sympathetic to Israel. Four years ago, French respondents sympathized with the Palestinians over Israel by roughly two-to-one (36% to 19%). Today, identical percentages sympathize with each side in the Israel-Palestinian dispute.

The trends are dramatic:


One is forced to wonder why Israel's popularity is increasing. Perhaps in electing Hamas, the Palestinian Arabs have disappointed optimistic Europeans who thought they were secular liberals like them. Also, Sharon's strategy of unilateral withdrawal has revealed that Israel is not bent on conquest -- it is going to pull out of most of the PA whether or not the Palestinians can serve up somebody who can negotiate credibly. Finally, one has to wonder whether Iran's anti-Israel rhetoric and president Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial has not blown back against the Palestinian Arabs, who have made a point of seeking and accepting support from Iran.

Read the whole thing. Comments sought.


10 Comments:

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Wed Jun 14, 10:04:00 AM:

It still amazes me that Chirac ordered France's nuclear strike capability to be re-targeted against Tehran. Makes one wonder if he didn't know something specific to indicate the mullahs were up to making mischief in his country. Otherwise it seems, wrt Iran's nuclear capability, a premature and somewhat over-the-top response to a still-developing situation.

As to Iran's true intentions concerning nuclear technology, I agree that it seems unlikely they would dispense weapons to terrorists--at least not rogue terrorists. But neither can one entirely discount the possibility that the mullahs may engage their own home-grown agents for terror operations. Regardless, I still think the greater danger of a nuclear-armed Iran (aside from the disturbing possibility that the leadership really means what it says about wiping Israel off the map) is the geopolitical weight it will give the mullahs in the mid-East. Of course, that will be a short-term advantage because no other country in range of their missiles will want to be without a deterrent, and there is currently no other deterrent to nuclear-tipped missiles than other nuclear-tipped missiles. So that will mean a dangerous arms race in what is already possibly the least stable region in the world.

On further thought, maybe Chirac is simply indicating to the Iranians what the future looks like for them should they persist down the path they are going. I'm skeptical it will work against the likes of Ahmadinejad, but there must be others in Iran who are discomfitted by the thought of nuclear annihilation.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Wed Jun 14, 01:09:00 PM:

"Meanwhile, Japan and China, two neighboring Asian rivals with long histories of conflict, hold very negative opinions of one another..."

Having lived in Japan, this one really fascinated me. The reactions to the legacy of WWII and the period leading up to it in Germany and Japan are a big part of this. The Germans went on what a friend of mine has termed, "the 60-year apology tour." Virtually every German makes it their personal duty to be aware of what happened from about 1933-1945 and to be very very sorry for it. In Japan, the cultural interplay between what to be proud of and what to be ashamed of from that period are far more complex, and the net result seems to have been to just avoid talking about it. As a result a lot of young and even middle-aged Japanese simply don't really know why there might be animosity towards them in large swaths of East Asia. Also, unlike democratic France, China does indeed have a truly reprensible government, which is reflected in Japanese opinion of China. In the recent textbook row, both sides had great points. The Chinese were correct in that Japan has not really dealt with the atrocities of its Imperial past. The Japanese were correct in saying that the Chinese government is in no position to criticise anyone else on human rights. I was just happy to see them make each other squirm for awhile.

"[the Muslim countries] are three times as likely to believe that democracy will succeed in Iraq than they are to believe that the world is safer because of the war (although still only about a third are optimistic). Is this because Muslims have greater confidence in Iraqis than do Europeans, or is it that they just don't associate democracy with safety the way Westerners do?"

I am not sure how the former makes any sense, but I think you nailed it with the latter. Let's leave out democratic Indonesia, which has somewhat fewer doubts about democracy in Iraq than the others. In Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt, they see the people voting, the purple fingers, and the ballot boxes and all the wonderful trappings of the democracy they lack. They also see 50 people kidnapped at once and another 50 turning up shot in the back of the head on the outskirts of Baghdad. How much would you expect them to associate democracy with safety?

I think they have reached the same conclusion as the Iraqis fleeing democratic Iraq for safe Syria and Jordan.

"In point of fact, opposition to pre-emptive military action, even in Europe, may not be as deep as the media would have us believe."

This is a questionable conclusion to make based on these poll numbers. The "costly and unpopular war" that you referred to as being a possible issue with the British public, I venture, will present a currently insurmountable and ever-growing barrier to military action against Iran (thankfully), despite the horrendous things people think Iran will do with nuclear weapons in the event they get them.  

By Blogger Tony Harrison, at Wed Jun 14, 02:30:00 PM:

Well done.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jun 14, 02:51:00 PM:

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By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jun 14, 03:00:00 PM:

Good job ... the media does what it does because it needs to sell advertising. Note that nowhere do you see reported the data that contradicts the "Everyone Hates America" story being pushed. On page 10 you see the chart that shows "Favorable opinions of Americans" has actually gone UP in many countries, including France, Jordan, Pakistan, China, Japan, India, etc., since the start of the war. Dont let facts get in the way of a good story!

One other thing. The Shia-Sunni schism is real and not overblown as you suggest. Many muslim wars have been fought over it since the days of Mohammed. Its not propaganda or showboating when many leaders of Al-Qaeda continuously refer to Shias as non-believers. If Al-Qaeda want to re-establish the Muslim Caliphate across the Muslim world they should want Shias on their side, and Bin Laden seems to state that. Yet, although they begrudgingly admire Iran, most Al-Qaeda leaders still call for the destruction of the Shias. Scary to think about, or maybe a harbinger of the fanatics end, but what happens in Muslim world when Bin Laden (dare I say "the Uniter") dies?  

By Blogger Judith, at Wed Jun 14, 05:37:00 PM:

"....the collapse of support for the war on terror in Spain compared to much gentler declines elsewhere in Europe is interesting, especially in light of the 3/11 attacks. .... It may be that the Spanish subscribe to the lefty idea that the jihad is blowback from American policy with particular intensity."

OTOH, there have recently been huge demonstrations against Zapatero for talking to ETA terrorists, and Aznar - as staunch on the WoT as Australia's Howard - had a small lead in the election until the Madrid bombings. Even then Zapatero only won with a small lead, and by lying about Aznar's handling of the bombings. If you are correct about Spain, it's not a large majority that feel the way you've described.  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Wed Jun 14, 05:59:00 PM:

I will try and get up a proper response to this post by later today TH, as there is simply too much to analyze.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Wed Jun 14, 09:22:00 PM:

I do wonder what these nations would think of us if A) they all had a free press and B) our own citizens didn't revel in misrepresenting us.

I don't imagine I'm going to know the answer to those anytime soon.  

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