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Published: Monday, 12/9/2002

The view from abroad

The most powerful country in the world is not winning friends and influencing people around the globe with its Iraqi gunboat diplomacy. Perhaps the best gauge to date of world opinion about the United States and its Iraqi war plans shows that while favorable views about America still supersede the negative in most non-Muslim countries, unfavorable impressions in most nations have registered a significant increase over the past two years.

That is not good news for the United States, which claims to put a lot of stock in coalition-building. But it is not surprising either, considering the Bush Administration's decidedly unilateralist bent unless foreign input serves its interests. Many of the 44 countries and 38,000 people who participated in the polls, of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, complained that the U.S. routinely ignored their national interests.

It was also apparent that the widely perceived attitude of the Bush Administration - that it knows best and will go it alone if need be - has not endeared Washington to the rest of the world.

While the Pew Center surveys indicate continued widespread support for America's campaign against terrorism - except by people in several nations with Muslim majorities - the mood in many foreign quarters has nonetheless been tempered by the Bush regime's regular reluctance to be a team player in international politics.

For example, Washington's steadfast crusade to use military force in Baghdad with or without international approval has been particularly vexing overseas. Follow-up surveys done by the Pew Center showed substantial skepticism of U.S. military motives.

The opinion that U.S. control of Iraqi oil was the underlying reason America would initiate war was held by 44 percent in Britain, 54 percent in Germany, 75 percent in France, and 76 percent in Russia.

By comparison, a survey taken in the United States showed 22 percent buy the war-for-oil argument. And just over a third of Americans polled worry that war in Iraq could lead to an all-out war in the Middle East, while more than half in Germany and Russia worried a great deal about that prospect.

There also seems to be more fear of increased terrorism overseas if war is waged in Iraq. But those pursuing war against Saddam Hussein in the Bush Administration don't appear to be listening to contrary opinions about the campaign at home or abroad.

The reach of global politics is extensive and not at all confined to one region or another. While the Pew survey shows America has a comfortable reserve of good will around the planet, it also notes a disturbing trend of growing detractors.

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