In Saudi Arabia, the government refused to allow the question to be asked at all.
Pro-American feeling does not necessarily translate into pro-American action.
People across Western Europe mourned the 9/11 attack. But a Gallup
poll conducted the week after 9/11 found that only 29% of the French,
21% of Italians, 18% of the British, 17% of Germans and 12% of
Spaniards supported military action against countries that harboured
terrorists. Iraq is not the reason that NATO has trouble persuading
European governments to send troops to fight in Afghanistan.
Anti-American feeling is often an artefact of propaganda.
Anti-Americanism becomes stronger as the media become less free.
Russian anti-Americanism began its measurable rise in the polls in the
late 1990s, coinciding with the reassertion of state control over the
Russian media and the imposition of a strong nationalist message.
Behind all these particular problems, there is a larger defect, maybe best explained by an analogy.
Suppose we were studying anti-black hatred. Would we begin by trying
to figure out what blacks had done to justify hatred--and then offer
suggestions about how they might alter their behaviour so as to give
less offense? Yet that is how the conversation about anti-Americanism
Critics of the Bush administration cite various grievances against
American policy as the cause of anti-Americanism. But this is a naive
understanding of how the human mind works.
An example from U.S. politics may explain. During the prosperous
1990s, Democrats consistently gave a more favourable assessment of the
U.S. economy than Republicans. Sometimes the gap spread as wide as 10
percentage points. Partisanship determined perspective, not the other
In the same way, the Islamic world seems to pay attention only to
those facts like the Arab-Israeli conflict that inflame their anger,
while ignoring facts that might contradict anti-American prejudice,
like the use of U.S. military force in the 1990s to defend the Muslims
of Bosnia and Kosovo.
In the movies, trenchant remarks like these leave Congress buzzing.
In real life, they make no impact at all. Lunchtime came, the chairman
banged a gavel, and I stepped out of the Rayburn Building to hail a cab.
I'd seen the scene a hundred times in movies and television: the big
hearing room on Capitol Hill, the chairman with his gavel, the
spectators crowded at the back, the massed cameras and the lonely
witness crouched into his microphone, speaking to the U.S. Congress and
Real life is less dramatic. On Wednesday morning, I was the man at
the microphone, speaking to a subcommittee of the House committee on
foreign affairs. Instead of the thronged audience, there was a visiting
group of students, sprinkled with protesters in pink shirts and
The topic of the hearing: a new report commissioned by House
Democrats asserting that America's standing in the world had collapsed
under President Bush. I was called as a Republican rebuttal witness.
The Democrats' report compiled poll data showing a spike in
anti-American feeling around the world since 2002. The numbers are
indeed troubling--and they surely mean something. But what exactly?
I use survey data a lot in my own writing and research. It's a great
tool, when handled with care. But used improperly, polls create the
appearance of fact without the reality.
Here's what's wrong with the polls' claim that America's standing has plummeted because of George W. Bush and the Iraq war:
The emotion measured by the polls is shallow and shifting.
The more intensely people care about an issue, the more difficult it
is to change their minds. A shift of 5 points in public opinion on the
abortion issue would be a huge change. Yet according to the annual Pew
survey of international opinion, fully one-fifth of the population of
Spain switched from a positive to negative view of the United States
between spring, 2005, and spring, 2006.
Where anti-Americanism is strong, it predates George Bush and Iraq.
In the first Pew survey, conducted in 1999, Pakistan already ranked as the most anti-American country on Earth.
The Gallup Organization conducted a huge survey of Islamic public
opinion between December, 2001, and January, 2002. It found that a
majority of those surveyed regarded the United States unfavourably,
with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran being the most hostile.
Significant numbers in all Islamic countries regarded the 9/11 attacks
as justifiable. Barely one-fifth of those surveyed accepted that the
9/11 attacks were carried out by Arab men--two-thirds denied it