Poll Shows Growing Arab Rancor at U.S.

WaPo – Poll Shows Growing Arab Rancor at U.S.

Arab views of the United States, shaped largely by the Iraq war and a post-Sept. 11 climate of fear, have worsened in the past two years to such an extent that in Egypt — an important ally in the region — nearly 100 percent of the population now holds an unfavorable opinion of the country, according to two polls due out today. Both surveys were conducted in June by Zogby International and polled Arab men and women in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. The findings reflect the concerns raised in the Sept. 11 commission report released yesterday, which emphasized a losing battle for public opinion. “Support for the United States has plummeted,” the commissioners wrote. “What we’re seeing now is a disturbing sympathy with al Qaeda coupled with resentment toward the United States, and we ought to be extremely troubled by that,” said Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor who commissioned one of the surveys.

The other survey, titled “Impressions of America,” charts a dramatic overall decline in positive views by comparing current attitudes with those sampled in April 2002. “In 2002, the single policy issue that drove opinion was the Palestinians; now it’s Iraq and America’s treatment, here and abroad, of Arabs and Muslims,” said James Zogby, who commissioned the report with the Arab American Institute. In Zogby’s 2002 survey, 76 percent of Egyptians had a negative attitude toward the United States, compared with 98 percent this year. In Morocco, 61 percent viewed the country unfavorably in 2002, but in two years, that number has jumped to 88 percent. In Saudi Arabia, such responses rose from 87 percent in 2002 to 94 percent in June. Attitudes were virtually unchanged in Lebanon but improved slightly in the UAE, from 87 percent who said in 2002 that they disliked the United States to 73 percent this year.

Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: “What is the first thought when you hear ‘America’?” respondents overwhelmingly said: “Unfair foreign policy.” And when asked what the United States could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were “Stop supporting Israel” and “Change your Middle East policy.”

This isn’t particularly surprising, given that state-controlled media and Al Jazeera propaganda are the main source of “news” for most of the people being surveyed. Still, it comports with the thesis of Anonymous that it is American policies, not American values, that are hated in the Islamic world. As ominous as these findings are, some of them are rather laughable:

Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden tied for fourth place on a list of most admired world leaders. Jacques Chirac of France was first on that list, despite a ban on Muslim headscarves in French schools. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the long-deceased Egyptian nationalist who went to war with Israel, was No. 2, followed by Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Chirac must be truly proud.

Most Arabs polled said they believe that the Iraq war has caused more terrorism and brought about less democracy, and that the Iraqi people are far worse off today than they were while living under Hussein’s rule. The majority also said they believe the United States invaded Iraq for oil, to protect Israel and to weaken the Muslim world.

They must have seen Michael Moore’s film. The irony of this is that, aside from Israel, there is no democracy in the Middle East, unless one counts Iraq’s interim government. And, certainly, had oil been our objective, we might have started by working to lift the decade-old embargo first and, one would think, done a bit better job of grabbing it once we occupied the country.

Telhami, who is collecting statistics for an upcoming book on the Arab world, said the “United States had it right when it said after Sept. 11 that we would battle for hearts and minds. But, unfortunately, things went the way al Qaeda wanted them to go rather than the way the U.S. wanted them to go in terms of public opinion.”

A rather predictable outcome. Provoking the U.S. into fighting back was Osama’s objective. But, surely, not fighting back would have been worse for America than doing so.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Middle East, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jem says:

    Depends on what you mean by “better”. If, like John Kerry, the metric is popularity in the world, then our efforts since 9/11 have been disastrous. On the other hand, if your goal is to reduce the odds of another country openly supporting terror against US interests, we’ve improved our position.

  2. marci says:

    “A rather predicatable outcome. Provoking the U.S. into fighting back was Osama’s objective. But, surely, not fighting back would have been worse for America than doing so.”

    I agree with your statement 100 percent. I’m sorry that so many Americans and citizens of other countries can’t see the connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. To look for meetings between these two is ridiculous–they meet in person or any other way as frequently as world leaders ever meet one another. But they share a mutual hatred of George H. W. and George W. Bush. There was a great deal of Al Qaeda infiltration throughout the Middle East–no country was spared. What we are fighting is World War II in that the enemy is all around us, uses highly advanced propaganda techniques, and believes in anihilation. But there are no heads of state involved that are identifiable so in another sense it is like waging war against organized crime (the Mafia, or the Mob). Our enemies are truly everywhere. George W. Bush took a true WWII general’s approach to the situation that existed immediately before and after 9/ll. We needed a foothold in the Middle East, and Iraq posed a threat. So to first hit Afghanistan was smart, knowing that these terrorists would scatter throughout Europe and Northern Africa and the Middle East, countries in which they had friends and a presence. So after driving them out of Afghanistan, we needed to block them from setting up a base of operations somewhere else, which likely would have been Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a very weak leader, his inner circle associates have told us, so Iraq would have been a logical choice. Unfortunately, George W. Bush will get punished for being ahead of the game here. Interesting that some are tring to say he should have prevented the events of 9/11, but when he tries to take some preventive strategies, he gets crucified. It has been appalling to see the antiwar movement rise up against this president.

  3. Jeff Harrell says:

    Has anybody done a poll lately to see how Americans feel about the Arab countries? I’m pretty sure it cuts both ways.

  4. Joseph Marshall says:

    It would be really nice if the supporters of the party in power could get it through their heads that our military capacity is not infinite.

    There is no way on earth we are going to compel cooperation from everybody between Morocco and the southern Phillipines by military force. Any one of those countries might by a haven for terroists, and we will find them only with cooperation. So where we cannot compel we must persude.

    It’s all very well to blame “media bias” for Muslim dissatisfaction with our policies, (Funny, isn’t it, how that old bugaboo media bias is responsible for so much dissatisfaction both at home and abroad.) but it is still something we must address proactively to have any chance of effectively “fighting terrorism”.

    You guys DO want to effectively “fight terrorism”, dontcha?

    So maybe we should look a little harder at the policies that spawn such discontent.

  5. vdibart says:

    “given that state-controlled media and Al Jazeera propaganda are the main source of ‘news'”

    I won’t go into how many people get their news from Fox News, which has been accused of being a mouthpiece for this administration (granted, not quite state-controlled, but not too far from propoganda). The point I want to make is that it doesn’t take very much propoganda by government controlled news agencies to turn public opinion against the US when there are things like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, thousands of civilians killed, and continued unreset and insecurity in the region. And that’s just what our administration admits to.

    “The majority also said they believe the United States invaded Iraq for oil, to protect Israel and to weaken the Muslim world.”

    Look at it from their perspective. Wasn’t it made very clear to the American public before the war that Iraq will pay back the American taxpayer for the war effort in time via oil exports? This is something that is no longer considered significant, but it was said at the time. I imagine it was glossed over so as not to make it seem like we did invade for the oil. (BTW, on this point I don’t necessary agree with them, but can see their argument). With regards to the point about Israel, I find it unbelievable that any hawk would argue that point. Lacking other proof that Saddam supported terrorism, hawks *always* fall back on Saddams policy of funding terrorist attacks on Israel via Mulsim guerrilla groups. So from their perspective, it’s clear that part of this was to protect Israel.

    “the metric is popularity in the world, then our efforts since 9/11 have been disastrous”

    Why, oh why can’t people just at least *consider the possibility* that our policies are indeed unfair and that account for some of the hostility? I’m not excusing terrorists, and I think we would have extremists willing to kill Americans no matter what our policies were. But what we are facing now is not limited to some extremists. We are facing entire nations who openly express anger towards us because of our policies. In other words, a few complaints can be dismissed as irrelevant. On this scale, as free thinkers in a global society it’s our responsibility to critically examine our behavior. I hate to use the word, but this really is a hubris that we are unwilling to acknowledge.

    “So to first hit Afghanistan was smart, knowing that these terrorists would scatter throughout Europe and Northern Africa and the Middle East”

    I call bull on this whole line of reasoning. First of all, our intent was not to scatter terrorists throughout most of Europe and Africa. This was some combination of circumstance and poorly executed military exercises (on the part of the Northern Alliance at the very least). Can you argue that it’s better to scatter bin Laden than to capture him? If Iraq and Afghanistan were part of some grand plan as this poster implies, the logical approach would have been to invade in the reverse order to control more borders that bin Laden could escape through. In other words, it was not orginally planned like this, it evolved as such for reasons that each side contends with zeal.

  6. 42nd SSD says:

    Jeff, I hope you’re right… but sometimes I wonder. At least in this particular area (well, ok, it *is* loony California) many people I talk to blame the US, and President Bush in particular, for the terrorist attacks. We gotta stop picking on those poor innocent Middle Eastern people! Stop stealing their oil! Appeasement! End support for Israel! Etc.

    My gut reaction is that “Arab rancor at U.S.” is a positive thing. I have a very hard time believing that the average Arab honestly *liked* us before. We have little in common with them and their culture, and I suspect they have about as much love and desire for the average American lifestyle as the average American has for theirs.

    In this case, I’d much rather be respected than liked. We aren’t going to win the war by making them like us; appeasement is never the answer. The best we can do is to act responsibly, fairly, and treat them with the respect they deserve–but at the same time, accept that various aspects of their culture are producing an unreasoning hatred, bordering on insanity, that has gone on for hundreds of years. This is *not* a good thing, and may “cultural relativism” be damned to where it belongs.

  7. vdibart says:

    “We aren’t going to win the war by making them like us; appeasement is never the answer. The best we can do is to act responsibly, fairly, and treat them with the respect they deserve”

    Finally, something that I can agree with. Aside from the obvious connotation imparted the word “appeasement” by WWII, I don’t anyone on either side promotes appeasement as a means to winning this war. I think your point highlights one of the main differences between the hawks and the doves. The doves don’t agree that we treat these Arab countries with respect. Truly, can you name one policy that we’ve promoted that can be seen favorably from their perspective? I can name a number that are obviously seen unfavorably. It doesn’t take a mathematician to add up those numbers.

  8. nobody important says:

    I always laugh whenever anyone uses the euphemism “America’s unfair Mideast foreign policy”. Just what does this really mean? The destruction of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people.

  9. vdibart says:

    I guess only if you can see in black and white, yes. For the rest of us, it means a sovereign Palestine where people don’t have to worry about their home being bulldozed without warning and a peaceful and safe Israel where you can get on a bus without the threat of being blown to bits.

    As for how to get there, I can assure you that the path does not lie with either of the above actions being sanctioned by either side.

  10. Joseph Marshall says:

    Well, nobody, can you answer me a serious question: Why should a country sitting on 100-200 covert nuclear warheads, with a military far stronger and more capable than any country it borders, and with its “domestic” enemies surrounded (and soon to be penned up behind a big wall) have to think that it is somehow on the brink of annihilation?

  11. Cathy says:

    Jacque Chirac of France was first. What does that tell you? Unbelievable.

  12. Rich Arnone says:

    “somehow on the brink of anhillation”
    If Iran gets it’s Islamic bomb how many does it have to deliver to obliterate Isreal? And in the midst of it’s obliteration, if Isreal is able to strike back, how does that stop it’s annhilation? Get your head out of your ass Josh.