Pushing back at U.S.

Surveys show that worldwide dislike for America has grown in recent years. And now, it's not just our government they can't stand - it's us.

May 14, 2006|By ANDREW KOHUT AND BRUCE STOKES | ANDREW KOHUT AND BRUCE STOKES,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

(Excerpted from America Against the World: How We Are Different and Why We Are Disliked, Times Books, 2006)

In 1842, Charles Dickens found Americans rude, addicted to sharp business practices, hypocritical about liberty in light of their treatment of blacks, and careless about where they spit tobacco. Excepting the last complaint, many foreigners still see Americans in the same negative light.

But, while anti-Americanism is not a new phenomenon, today's anti-Americanism is an amalgam of discontents. Some of it is a reaction to the impact on foreign societies of American popular culture, with commercial television programs and music and a uniform McDonald's and Starbucks diet that threatens other countries' indigenous cultures. A second source of disgruntlement is resentment that American-style business practices are forcing changes in industrial and societal practices - longer work days and the opening of shops on Sunday - and that such accelerations in the pace of modernization threaten to overwhelm traditional ways of life. ...

A third category of anti-Americanism is the world's reaction to U.S. foreign policies. It is also not new. For centuries, Latin Americans have struggled under the overbearing power and influence of the colossus to the north, manifested in such events as the mob that attacked Vice President Richard M. Nixon's motorcade during his visit to Caracas in 1958 and the anti-American riots that greeted President Bush on his visit to Argentina last fall.

Elsewhere, however, the rise in anti-Americanism in reaction to U.S. foreign policy is relatively recent and, like other anti-American backlash, it extends to all parts of the globe. For two decades after World War II, most of the world acknowledged a debt to American power for defeating the Axis powers. In particular, Western Europeans, though at times critical, were largely grateful for the Marshall Plan aid that had revived their societies, and appreciated the U.S. military umbrella that protected them against Soviet ambitions. In the late 1960s, as European disillusionment with the Vietnam War grew, these pro-American attitudes began to unravel. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration's hard-line approach to Moscow, which resulted in the NATO decision to station Pershing intermediate-range missiles in Western Europe to counter the Soviets, spurred huge anti-American demonstrations.

The 1983 Gallup European Poll documented broad discontent with President Ronald Reagan's policies at that time. It also found widespread distrust of American power. ... Washington tended to brush off such findings of discontent, citing its own polls by the U.S. Information Agency. Since the mid-1950s, the USIA had found that attitudes toward the United States depended heavily on the news of the day, suggesting that anti-Americanism was a transitory phenomenon.

Moreover, despite European opposition to the U.S. government policies, the 1983 Gallup Poll found little dislike of the American people and substantial approval of the American way of life in every country except France. Even the French disapproved by a mere 4 percent margin (40 to 36 percent). A Newsweek cover story that year summed up the poll results as showing that "Americans are seen as a good and productive people with an erratic or even dangerous government. ... "

But that was then. Today's anti-Americanism runs broader and deeper. Not only is U.S. foreign policy more strongly opposed, but now the influence of the American lifestyle is also rejected even as American products are still widely accepted. And, for the first time, the American people are also less liked. Judging by trends in international surveys, the negative image of many things American seems unlikely to change anytime soon. Whatever global good will the United States had in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks seems to have quickly dissipated as U.S. policymakers broadened the focus of the war against terrorism.

In 2002, a Pew survey of 38,000 people in 44 countries found that the U.S. global image had slipped when contrasted with the results of comparable prior polls conducted by the U.S. State Department. Favorable attitudes toward America had declined most sharply in majority-Muslim countries, but slippage was also observed among longtime NATO allies, in Eastern Europe, and in most regions of the world. By the following spring, after the March 2003 launch of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a follow-up Pew survey of 16,000 people in 20 countries found that favorable opinions had more than slipped. They had plummeted.

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