Friday, July 07, 2006

# Posted 7:28 PM by Taylor Owen  

THE NOT-SO-SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP?: According to a recent Telegraph poll (conducted by YouGov), British support for American politics, culture and role in the world is at a possible historic low. Granted there have been an inordinate number of these polls of late, usually conducted after a particularly contentious American action, gleefully reported by the media as further sign of a transatlantic rift. And, having spent a fair amount of time in the UK, I am willing to admit to witnessing my share of the uniquely Oxbridge brand of anti-Americanism. In the end though, most polls seem to reflect the reality that save on Iraq, and Bush I suppose, there is general good will between the two nations. The results from this one, however, are really quite astonishing.

For example:

  • 12% trust the US to act wisely in international affairs.
  • 11% see the US as a beacon to the world.
  • 65%, regard America's influence in the world today as predominantly malign.
  • 22% believe that the present American government's policies and actions make the world a better place to live in.
  • 72% think George W Bush's desire to spread freedom and democracy is really merely a proxy for American self-interest.
  • 77% think George W Bush is a "pretty poor" or "terrible" leader.
  • 72% believe American society is essentially "unequal".
  • 73% think the US is "badly led".
  • 73% think the US is ignorant of the outside world.
  • 83% think the US doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks (perhaps this one speaks best to the relevance of the poll).

As Anthony King puts it, “the so-called "special relationship" may still thrive in Downing Street and at Camp David but it has obviously atrophied among the British public.”

For what it's worth, The US Embassy in London responded that their polling suggests a different level of support, and that “With respect to the poll's assertions about American society, we bear some of the blame for not successfully communicating America's extraordinary dynamism.” The Telegraph editorial accompanying the poll rightly asserts that "To dislike a country as diverse as America is misanthropic: America, more than any other state, contains the full range of humanity between its coasts."

But does any of this matter? At a general level, I tend to think that it does, at least at the extremes, based on a host of liberal internationalist arguments. I have also been finding myself sympathetic to recent Realist articulations on the value of global opinion, Walt’s latest book being a great example.

More specifically, if the sentiments reflected in this poll are representative, they will surely play a role in the next British election. While Blair has paid a heavy cost for his Atlantic alliance, if polls like this continue to emerge, the parameters of the debate will shift dramatically. This has implications for their role in both Iraq and Afghanistan - and hence, to the US. Cameron has already shown that he is willing to diverge dramatically from the Conservative establishment (on the environment for example), and is nothing if not politically astute.

Without getting into the validity of this particular poll, I have no idea how accurate it is or is not, I would be interested in the range of arguments for why none of this matters. Does power simply trump perception? Can the GWOT be fought without widespread public support? Can this all be written off to euro-elitism? While Edward Glick perfectly displayed the US antitheses of this elitisms yesterday, in an argument that I found utterly unconvincing, I am more than open to other arguments.

I know Porter doesn’t loose sleep over the ebb and flow of global opinion. Why not?

(17) opinions -- Add your opinion

The British political spectrum begins in the American center and extends well to the left of its American counterpart. Now imagine taking a poll only of Democrats, with extra weight on the Nader/Kucinich constituency. Would the results look that different from what you see above?

It might be interesting to look at historical data on this subject and compare UK opinion of the US during Republican administrations to the same statistic during Democratic ones.
"I know Porter doesn’t loose sleep over the ebb and flow of global opinion. Why not?"

I don't know, I guess the global community's failure to intervene properly in Darfur and stop the massacre of black Africans gets slightly higher priority. If the US and its allies took military action there without seeking impossible consensus, and if this damaged relations further, I would be strongly supportive.

I don't think the world has uniformly well served by the endless quest for international agreement, multilateral consensus and the consent of aggressive dictatorships on the Security Council.

I agree that global opinion does have real strategic significance, and that these Telegraph figures are a serious concern.

I would also draw a distinction between alienating people when it is a regrettable and unavoidable part of doing the right thing, and alienating people needlessly. Where the USA is guilty of the latter, I agree that this needs to be taken seriously and rectified.

Although I would be interested to see how other UK opinion polls report the matter. You hinted that there are conflicting/different results in other polls lately, I don't suppose you link this little corpulent man up to those?
Does the rest of the world care what the rest of the world thinks? Do the Swiss wonder what the Namibians think of them? Does Peru try to sway Bangladeshi public opinion? Or is it only America that is supposed to curry favor with the rest of the planet?

Do the effete, ineffectual intellectuals, the decadent pompous upper class, or the belligerent yellow-toothed yobs of England care what America thinks of them?
David, couldn’t agree more on the shift of spectrum. Canada is exactly the same. I would imagine that through the 90’s Clinton-Blair love affair, transatlantic support would have been consistantly high. It would be interesting to look at the Thatcher-Regan years as a comparison. Even over the past few years though, my sense is that while support for the war and Bush have been very low, feelings towards American culture and place in the world have been relatively stable. That is what makes this particular poll so extraordinary – it appears the negative feelings have spread significantly beyond the dislike of Bush. Perhaps it can no longer be said that they dislike the president, not Americans. This is worrying.

Patrick, the challenge you are describing was put well in the Telegraph editorial: “Americans find themselves damned either way. If they remain within their own borders, they are isolationist hicks who are shirking their responsibilities. If they intervene, they are rapacious imperialists. Indeed, many of their detractors manage to hold these two ideas in their heads simultaneously. Yet a moment's thought should reveal that they are both unfair.”

However, while this dichotomy is clear on the extremes (I would support American unilateral intervention in Darfur whatever the global opinion – although this is another topic and as you well know, US action might not be the best option), the issue becomes less clear in the more difficult cases. How do you value or weight global opinion against other more tangible measures of the overall strategic equation? More generally, this is the problem with quantifying soft power.

Bgates, when they were an empire, they indeed should have cared. Now, it doesn’t really matter that much.
Taylor, are you suggesting that soft power can only be had by weaker parties? I don't understand why you think the British Empire should have been solicitous of us in the past, but the United Kingdom can be obnoxious with no consequence for them.
On soft power, not at all. I just think that in all but the clearest cases, it is a very difficult beast to quantify, and that this, wrongly in my mind, often marginalises its value.

I wasn't speaking of the UK-US relationship specifically. More that the British Empire might have benefited from attributing more strategic value to international sentiment. The fact that they need not worry as much now is purely a function of having far less to loose. This of course also speaks to why the US should in my view care more now.
Can someone point me to a similar poll taken where "the USA" is replaced by
"Egypt " or "Pakistan" or "Saudia Arabia"
or "the ummah" in the poll questions posted?
Where and from whom was the survey drawn. Water cooler at The Guardian"? How about some numbers and methodology. Free speech is a wondeful thing; BS is not. David Kenney
Well look how the US has screwed Britain with, for example, the JSF and the extradition treaty. A "special relationship" that only goes one way isn't entirely viable.
Sorry this ain't High School. To you 199 "so called nations" F##k Y#u and your DICKtatorship.
And that includes the EU. Soviet lite.
"Sorry this ain't High School. To you 199 'so called nations' F##k Y#u and your DICKtatorship."

Whew, relieved to see people elevating the discourse above High School level.

"Whew, relieved to see people elevating the discourse above High School level.


Immaturity and unseriousness should not be treated with respect.
What they say they think of us, and what they really think of us may be two different things. There seems to be excellent cooperation, for instance, between our police and theirs when it comes to tracking terrorists, and the same with all countries of Western Europe. They know, au fond, we are the good guys. They also know they have to be worried that secrets shared with us may leak out at the North American end, thanks to the vile supply of insanely anti-Bush partisans in our CIA, State Department, and news media.
The telegraph is now saying that

We have seen how the US is now declining in trust and popularity in this country, and one of the reasons is that people sense a lack of reciprocity in the relationship.

in today's opinion, which is full of otherwise riled Brit-US commentary.
Whenever there is a Republican President the American and international media jacks up the anti-American propaganda to insane levels. Anti-Americanism becomes fashionable and hey, it's safe and makes you feel tough. But, since every country in the world realistically needs America more than America need it, not much actually changes.
Hmmm, still no polls on what the U.S. thinks of Briton or the whole of Europe. Hmmm, lets see, is France or Briton a "beacon" to the world"? Is Europe ignorant of the U.S.? (of course not, they have the BBC!!!) Do you really care what we think either? Now you know why we don't really care what you think as well. I do get a chukle reading that Briton thinks we are 'unequal', like your queen, princes,and football stars are really sleeping on the street.
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