President Bush's Bad Reputation

Just back from Southeast Asia, President George W. Bush will travel to the Middle East this week. But wherever he goes, Bush encounters hostility.

In Southeast Asia, Bush tried very hard to win over his hosts. He played native instruments, watched native dancers and even tried on native clothes. But Bush's earthy diplomacy conducted mid-munch at the G-8 Summit in July or his unsolicited shoulder rub of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hasn't played well around the world.

From Britain to China, Bush is the "go-it-alone cowboy" to much of the world, leading the United States in the direction he wants, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

"He is too arrogant about the image of the U.S in the world," a young man in Beijing China told CBS White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.

The natural extension of this negative view of Bush in the eyes of the world is a negative view of the U.S. That view is not just isolated to the Muslim world, where 30 percent of Indonesians and Egyptians polled had a negative opinion of the U.S., but to 23 percent of people in Spain. Less than 50 percent of those polled in France, Germany, Russia and China had favorable opinions of the U.S.

Andrew Kohut, who conducts the annual Pew Institute Global Attitudes Survey — a study of anti-Americanism in 16 nations -- says the study shows broad dislike driven by the war on terror.

"This sounds very strange to an American ear but when we go out and we question people, the depths of concern about American policies put us on a plane with the real bad guys of the axis of evil," he said.

"The United States is seen as conducting a unilateral foreign policy. There's resentment and suspicion in American power now that America has been on the defensive in the war on terror — "go it alone" at a time when America is unrivaled militarily. Many people around the world think Americans do what they can do, what they want to do, and they're not taking into account our interests or the interests of other people."

Anti-Americanism isn't static. In Asia, America's image rose markedly after U.S. aid poured in following the 2004 tsunami. It isn't permanent, either. Just five years ago, for instance, international opinions of the U.S. were much more sympathetic. Many people around the world wanted to help the United States after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

The president would argue that those attacks changed everything, but world opinion is a bit more discerning. Polls show that in much of the rest of the world, there was general approval for one part of Bush's response to 9/11; The war in Afghanistan made sense and seemed proportionate. But Iraq is a different story in the eyes of the world, said London School of Economics professor John Cox.

"I don't think there's much recuperable there," Cox said, "until the situation in Iraq is recovered and we have a new president in the White House. It is very difficult to think of a fundamental renaissance, if you like, happening without it."

Polls suggest that humility would most help America's image, something espoused by then-Governor Bush as a candidate for President in 2000.

"If we're an arrogant nation they'll resent us," he said then. "If we're a humble nation but strong, they'll welcome us. Our nation stands alone right now in terms of power. And that's why we've got to be humble. One way for us to end up being viewed as the 'Ugly American' is for us to go around the world saying, 'We do it this way, so should you.'"
  • Caitlin Johnson

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