Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Decline of America's Reputation

On June 11, the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs released the report “The Decline of America’s Reputation: Why,” based on a series of 10 hearings that the subcommittee conducted. The subcommittee chairman, Bill Delahunt says, “the data presented at these hearings make it clear that people in other nations don’t “hate us because of our values”but rather that they are disappointed with us because we aren’t always true to those values.” Subcommittee ranking member Dana Rohrabacher on a committee statement says, “While I respect the idea that public opinion is important, what is most important is to do what is right in building a future.”

The Subcommittee identified eight main findings about the levels, trends, and causes of international opinion of American policies, values, and people. Below is a summary of the findings. You can read the entire report here (PDF document)

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.

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 evenhandedness in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; and torture and abuse of prisoners in violation of treaty obligations.

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.

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.

5. It’s the historical memory: U.S. domination remains a potent image for long periodsand that image is used to discredit current U.S. policies.

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

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.

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.

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