Opinion of U.S. on the Rise; Significant Shift in Indonesia

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 9, 2005 | Go to article overview

Opinion of U.S. on the Rise; Significant Shift in Indonesia


Byline: Helle Dale, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Few nations spend as much time as America worrying about how the world perceives them. In the history of great powers or imperial powers, the American concern with likability is unmatched. Did the Romans, the Ottoman Turks, or the Soviets worry about popularity ratings? Today, does it bother the Chinese that their system of government is widely regarded as repressive? Certainly not to the extent that it really bothers Americans to be unpopular in the world.

Americans are highly vulnerable when it comes to public perceptions in other countries. This may be in part because they like their foreign policy to have a moral dimension. It is also one of the consequences of being a democracy, founded by men who thought it necessary to show a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind."

Accordingly, the plunge in public opinion of the United States internationally over the past four years has hurt. Mostly, of course, it has been a serious problem where anti-Americanism has turned into terrorist action, among murderous radicals and their supporters in Arab and Muslim countries. Anti-Americanism elsewhere - in Russia, in Europe or in Latin America - should also be a cause for concern, but mostly because it lends itself to political manipulation. Both kinds are serious problems that need to be addressed without delay when a new undersecretary of state for public diplomacy is appointed. Regrettably, this is a position that in the first Bush term became a revolving door with little stability.

Sometimes, however, it takes a great upheaval to produce an opportunity. The post-Christmas tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean gave Americans the opportunity to show compassion and solidarity with the victims of the disaster. To the Bush administration's credit, it seized the moment. American actions, which involved giving on the scale of almost a billion dollars of both public and private funding and extensive U.S. military rescue and reconstruction efforts, have paid off in the shape of improving attitudes toward the United States.

Last week at the Heritage Foundation, the non-profit group Terror Free Tomorrow published the results of the first post-tsunami public opinion poll of Indonesian attitudes toward the United States and the war of terror. The results were, as the group's president Kenneth Ballen noted, nothing less than amazing. …

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