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Negative Global Attitudes: Why Should We Care?

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According to the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project, released Tuesday, our image in Europe, Asia, and much of the Islamic world remains broadly negative and is getting worse.

Polling in fourteen countries - Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Nigeria, China, India, and the U.S. - found the overall opinion of the US continuing to decline just one year since the last poll. Remarkably, in last year's survey, respondents in most countries rated communist China more favorably than the US.

President Bush is seen almost universally as tarnishing our image abroad. Views of Bush were generally positive only in India and Nigeria. In China and Japan, only one-third of respondents rated Bush favorably, followed by Britain, at 30 percent. His approval ratings were in the absymal single digits in the largely secular and pro-Western Islamic countries Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt, as well as in historic ally Spain.

And it 's not as if we here in the US aren 't aware of our global standing. In last year's Pew survey, nearly seven in ten US respondents to the Pew poll agreed that the US is "generally disliked ". By comparison, 94 percent of Canadians said they were "generally liked " abroad.

Why are we "generally disliked "? Why has the richest and most powerful country in the world, long the leader and inspiration in democratic ideals, become the most feared and divisive country in the world? The simplest of many answers is that we are disliked precisely because we don 't know why we are disliked.

As Americans, we live largely in arrogant oblivion. We are oblivious of foreign culture and histories, and indifferent to foreign creeds and ambitions. Our water 's edge largely marks the boundary of our understanding of the world. While to us the world seems very far away, to the peoples of the world America seems very close - too close - by.
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To the peoples of the world, America is increasingly seen as an egotistical bully, promoting "democracy " abroad through methods opposed by the will of the majority of those living abroad. To the astonishment of the world, we are blind to the hypocrisy.

To the peoples of the world, American foreign policy is perceived as arrogantly unilateral, given to overly militaristic approaches, and to intervening ignorant of local conditions and cultures. We appear to be acting only in our own self-interest, and acting as if our own national interest is all that matters.

To the peoples of the world, American foreign policy is also perceived to prefer expedient self-gratifying decision-making at the expense of international consensus. Cowboy bravado is perceived to have replaced careful diplomacy. The trouble is that the peoples of the world, the 95 percent of humanity living beyond our water 's edge, frankly do not see themselves as cows to be rounded up and branded with American Values.

Perhaps most importantly, to the dismay of peoples of the world, such pressing global concerns as the AIDS pandemic, extreme poverty, extreme hunger, global warming, and the African genocide appear to barely figure into our worldview. We seem to be largely indifferent or ignorant of issues that matter to most of the world, at substantial damage to American moral credibility. And a nation without credibility cannot lead, for no one will follow.

Can a nation that cannot see the world rule the world? The answer, as these last several Pew Global polls have painfully shown, is no. America is no longer seen as the leader of the world. We are no longer the indispensable nation. Our way of life no longer inspires. To most peoples of the world, the US has become irrelevant to and perhaps a deterrent of their hopes of a better future.

So what? Why does it matter what other peoples and other countries think? Because history is not over, and some day there will be other causes and threats, and we will need not only the power to confront them, but the moral authority as well. Our security will depend on allies and partners to help us solve problems we simply can not solve alone. When we are less admired we are more isolated, and less safe - which is what we are today.
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Todd Huffman is a pediatrician and writer living in Eugene, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to many newspapers and publications throughout the Pacific Northwest.

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