Americans, Polls and War

In the small Persian Gulf state of Qatar, the U.S. Central Command has just completed a week-long computer simulation called “Internal Look.” The exercise, designed to test command, control, and communication links, has been dubbed by some as a dry run for an invasion of Iraq early next year.

Meanwhile, civilian Pentagon and State Department officials are traversing the world trying to drum up support for a possible war with Iraq. Other than Britain and Australia, no country has embraced Washington’s call to arms. Nor are they likely to do so, especially before receiving evaluations from the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency of Iraq’s 12,000 page internal accounting of its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs.

One major reason for this hesitancy, one that the Bush administration seems intent on ignoring, is that ordinary men and women in other countries are openly opposed to the U.S. policy. Inconveniently for the Bush foreign policy team, this opposition is having an effect on many governments, even in quasi- and non-democratic nations.

That such unfavorable attitudes are real rather than media speculation was amply demonstrated by a massive poll (38,000 individuals) conducted in 44 countries by the prestigious Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Among its findings:

“Images of the U.S. have been tarnished…among longtime NATO allies, in developing countries, in Eastern Europe and…in Muslim societies.”

“A potential war with Iraq…threatens to further fuel anti-American sentiment…. Iraq is seen as a threat to regional stability and world peace…. Yet American motives for using force against Iraq are still suspect.”

“The spread of disease is judged the top global problem in more countries than any other international threat…. Fear of ethnic and religious violence ranks second…. Nuclear weapons run a close third.”

“Many people around the world…believe the U.S. does not take into account the interests of their country when making international policies.”

A follow-up survey in France, Germany, Turkey (all NATO allies), and Russia found “huge majorities” opposed to employing military power to remove Saddam Hussein, while in Britain the public was evenly split on the issue. The French (75%), Germans (54%), and Russians (76%) linked the U.S. position on using force to a desire to control Iraq’s oil. Turks (83%) oppose letting the U.S. use bases in their country to launch attacks on Iraq.

The Pew survey is complemented by a late November poll of 1,106 Americans by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), which found that a plurality of the U.S. public (45%) realizes that the rest of the world distrusts U.S. foreign policy goals. A further finding that ought to give the administration pause about launching war is that a bare majority (52%) of Americans said that their government was handling the Iraq situation well.

It’s not hard to understand why others, even close allies, express suspicion about U.S. motives and actions. South Korea presents a classic case. Nearly 50 years after the end of the Korean War, the U.S. still has 37,000 troops in the South and occupies a 630 acre base in the middle of the capital, Seoul. U.S. forces are responsible for polluting soil and water resources near their bases (e.g., the July 2000 dumping of toxic waste into the Han River, the source of drinking water for some 10 million Koreans in Seoul). Low-flying jet aircraft create sonic booms, disturbing residential areas. Soldiers commit crimes against Koreans but are largely immune from Korean courts under the Status of Forces Agreement. Most recently, Koreans were incensed when a U.S. military court exonerated two U.S. soldiers whose armored vehicle crushed two South Korean girls on their way to a birthday party last June.

In March 2001, when President Kim Dae Jung paid his first visit to the Bush White House, the overriding impression in Korea was that their president’s efforts to advance North-South reconciliation were dismissed as pipe dreams. But a poll of 1,013 Koreans found that 62% labeled Washington’s attitude “unhelpful” on this point. Moreover, as reported by the New York Times, other Korean polls in 2002 show a majority “felt there was little or no chance of an attack by North Korea” on the South, only 42% “supported maintaining the current number of U.S. troops” in the South (15% supported complete withdrawal), and almost 60% expressed “dislike” for the United states. The overall message to the United States from these surveys: let the two Koreas work out their peninsula’s problems internally.

Which might not be bad advice to take to heart. Instead of trying to run the world, perhaps the Bush administration should concentrate on remedying some of America’s internal problems. One place to start is with another finding of the Pew survey: “Fully 15% of Americans say there have been times in the past year they have been unable to afford food–the highest proportion in any advanced economy.”

Daniel Smith, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, is senior fellow on Military Affairs at the Friends (Quaker) Committee on National Legislation.) This article was originally published by the Project Against the Present Danger. Smith can be reached at: dan@fcnl.org

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