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How They View America

Despite my reservations about the surveys conducted by Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), their new poll is worth considering. Among countries surveyed, opposition to U.S. naval bases in the Persian Gulf is common and broad:

14 of 20 nations say it is a bad idea, three say it is a good idea, and three are divided. On average across all publics polled, just 22 percent say it is a good idea for the US to have naval bases in the Gulf, while 52 percent say it is a bad idea.

It is not surprising that the countries in which there’s the broadest opposition to an American presence in the Gulf are the states in and around the Middle East. The nays were

led by Egypt (91%) and the Palestinian Territories (90%) and followed by Turkey (77%), Jordan (76%) and Azerbaijan (66%). However, this view is also fairly strong outside the region–in Mexico (74%), Russia (63%), Ukraine (56%), Indonesia (56%) and China (54%).

Obviously, this poll would have a totally different outcome had it surveyed the ruling elites of the Middle Eastern states – and is more a general expression of Arab (and world) anger and discontent with the U.S. than a calculated strategic position. Frankly, an Egyptian or Jordanian would derive very little benefit from the U.S. dismantling its Gulf bases.

Anger towards the U.S. is revealed more blatantly in the second half of the PIPA survey:

Given three options, only 16 percent on average across 21 nations say “the US mostly shows respect to the Islamic world.” Sixty-seven percent think the US is disrespectful, but 36 percent say this is “out of ignorance and insensitivity,” while 31 percent say “the US purposely tries to humiliate the Islamic world.” Only Americans have a majority saying the US mostly shows respect to the Islamic world (56%).

And here’s what the rest of the world thinks of American democracy promotion:

In both Muslim and Western countries there is a widespread perception that the United States does not support democracy per se in Muslim countries; most think it only supports democracy if the government is cooperative with the US… In no nation does a majority think the US favors democracy unconditionally, though in the United States views are divided between this view (44%) and the view that the US is conditionally supportive (43%).

All this presents President-elect Obama with both opportunity and risk: his genuine intentions to convince Muslims that the U.S. does have respect for them – exemplified by his much discussed decision to speak in a Muslim capital – might help the U.S. recover some of its reputation in the region. But making real progress will be much trickier: first, Obama probably has no intention of dismantling U.S. bases in the Gulf. Second, because Obama will be less supportive of Arab democracy than was the Bush team, and more prone to favor it only in cases that suit the short term interests of the U.S.

Thus, Obama is left with that old “solution” to America’s image problem – pledge to work harder on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From the poll:

Interestingly, a majority of Palestinians themselves say that a Palestinian state is a US goal (59%). However, other nations in the region think the US does not have this goal: Egypt (87%), Azerbaijan (79%), Jordan (63%), and Turkey (52%). In addition, majorities in Russia (60%) and Mexico (56%) share this view, as well as pluralities in Germany (50% to 41%)), Indonesia (48% to 24%), Ukraine (48% to 12%), France (47% to 41%), and China (34% to 20%).

How can Obama make those people believe this is an American goal? The go-to way is to pressure Israel to make concessions. While I don’t think Obama wants to do battle with Israel’s government, one can see that the temptation is there, and might be hard to resist.


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