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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

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The Decline in America's Reputation: Why?

“It’s the US policies, stupid”

A congressional report, titled "The Decline in America's Reputation: Why," finds that other nations hate us not because of our values but because of our policies. The report concludes that U.S. policy is what matters most of all in creating our international image.

The report finds that unilateral behavior by the current administration, a lack of contact with Americans and the "perceived war on Islam" also contributed to America's unfavorable image in many nations.

The Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight - part of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs - issued the report on June 11, 2008 after ten hearings on the issue.

According to Subcommittee Chairman Bill Delahunt: "The data presented at these hearings make it clear that people in other nations don't "hate us because of our values" - but rather they are disappointed with us because we aren't always true to those values."

The report pointed out that in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attack there was world-wide sympathy and support for the United States that was best summed up in the headline in the French newspaper Le Monde—Nous sommes tous Americains. (“We are all Americans now.”)

Since then, polls conducted by the U.S. Government and respected private firms have revealed a precipitous decline in favorability toward the United States and its foreign policy. The generally positive ratings from the 1950’s to 2000 moved to generally negative after 2002. As the very first

witness in a 10-hearing series with pollsters and regional analysts told the Subcommittee—“We have never seen numbers this low.”

The reversal is unprecedented and widespread:

     A 45-percentage point drop in favorability in Indonesia; 41 in Morocco; 40 in Turkey; and 27 in the United Kingdom;

     Among Muslims in Nigeria, favorable opinion fell 33 points, from 71 percent to 38 percent, within an eight-month period;

     A 26-point increase in Europe of the view that U.S. leadership in world affairs is undesirable;

     Unfavorability rose to 82 percent in Arab countries and 86 percent of Latin American elites now rate U.S. relations negatively; and

     83 percent of countries in 2002 had a plurality of citizens judging the United States favorably; by 2006 only 23 percent of countries had a plurality saying that U.S. influence is positive.

While the United States can’t base its foreign policies on opinion polling — either at home or abroad—this consistently negative view of U.S. foreign policy is both a liability and a sign that something has gone seriously awry.

What happened? Why, as the question is often posed, do they hate us?

Dr. James Zogby, who conducts polls in Muslim countries for Zogby International, expressed this in a nutshell to the Subcommittee: “It’s the policies, stupid.”

Similarly, Dr. Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, noted: “Simply look at the polls that have been conducted in the Islamic world over the last 15 years. Inevitably, large majorities in most Muslim countries admire the way Americans live. Inevitably, in an 85–90 percent rate, they hate the impact of our policies in the Islamic world.”

The committee hearings led to the following eight conclusions:

Finding 1: It’s true: U.S. approval ratings have fallen to record lows in nearly every region of the world. Generally positive ratings from the 1950’s to 2000 have moved to generally negative ratings since 2002. Approval ratings are highest in non-Muslim Africa and lowest in Latin America and in Muslim countries.

Finding 2: It’s the policies: Opposition to specific U.S. policies, rather than to American values or people, has driven this decline. The key policies are The invasion and occupation of Iraq; support for repressive governments worldwide; a perceived lack of even-handedness in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; and torture and abuse of prisoners in violation of treaty obligations.

Finding 3: It’s the perception of hypocrisy: Disappointment and bitterness arise from the perception that the proclaimed American values of democracy, human rights, tolerance, and the rule of law have been selectively ignored by successive administrations when American security or economic considerations are in play.

Finding 4: It’s the unilateralism: A recent pattern of ignoring international consensus, particularly in the application of military power, has led to a great deal of anger and fear of attack. This in turn is transforming disagreement with U.S. policies into a broadening and deepening anti-Americanism, a trend noted by the Government Accountability Office.

Finding 6: It’s the lack of contact: Contact with America and Americans reduces anti-Americanism, but not opposition to specific policies. Visitors to America—particularly students—and even their families and friends, have more positive views about America and Americans than non-visitors by approximately 10 percentage points.

Finding 7: It’s the visas: Interaction with the U.S. immigration and the visa process is a significant source of frustration with America. Particularly among Muslim applicants, the experience with customs and border officials creates a perception that they are not welcome. This perception spreads across their communities through their “horror stories” about travel to the United States.

Finding 8: It’s the perceived war on Islam: The combination of all of the previous findings has created a growing belief in the Muslim world that the United States is using the “war on terror” as a cover for its attempts to destroy Islam.

(Sources: Congressional Report)