Dispatches > The Buzz

Power and people

Pew poll didn't measure the kind of feeling toward America that I experienced reporting from the Middle East

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

And the winner is ... Osama bin Laden-at least in some Arab countries. A newly released poll from the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows the terrorist mastermind is ranked as the most trusted leader among Palestinians in the West Bank; he comes in second in Jordan, Morocco, and Pakistan.

Among world leaders who both shave and wear pants, Tony Blair and UN Secretary General Kofi Anan score well in most countries, but George W. Bush leads the Pew poll in only one nation-and it's not even his own. The U.S. president topped the poll among Israelis, but when Americans were asked which leader they most trusted to do the right thing, they chose the British prime minister.

Mr. Bush, of course, isn't looking for votes in the West Bank, so no one in the West Wing will lose any sleep over the poll. Still, it does contain some ominous findings for the future of U.S. foreign policy. Negative feelings about America, which used to be confined to the Middle East, have now spread to Africa and beyond. In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, 83 percent of respondents have a negative view of America, up from 36 percent just one year ago. Seven out of the eight Muslim nations had majorities in the poll saying they expect to be attacked by the United States at some point in the future.

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Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who chaired the Pew study, was predictably rattled by the results: "Something that I never thought I'd see and something that is of great concern to me is that people now fear American power."

But even in the Middle East where American power is supposedly most feared, American people are well-liked. In two months of reporting from Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, and the West Bank, I never experienced a single incident of anti-Americanism directed at me personally. Many people were eager to discuss or debate, but invariably with a smile at the end (and often an invitation to dinner).

Beyond just the goodwill toward individual Americans, there's something else that the polls fail to quantify: This is still the country people want to move to. If the first question I encountered was always about America's foreign policy, the last one was usually, "How can I get a green card?"

That's a strange kind of fear. One might even argue it sounds more like respect.

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