- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

Attitudes about the United States have deteriorated sharply in the Middle East in the past two years, a survey of five countries in the region shows.

U.S. policy, such as support for Israel, has long been criticized in the Middle East, but a majority of those polled now hold negative views of the American people as well.

“What these numbers say to me is that people are dramatically affected by our policies,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, for whom the survey was conducted. “Our people and our products are at risk in the region.”

The survey was conducted in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon. Without exception, a strong majority expressed unfavorable opinions of the United States. The lowest level was in Jordan, where only 5 percent said they had a favorable view of the United States in general. In 2002, Jordanian favorability of the U.S. was the second highest in the region, at 34 percent.

Survey respondents tend to distinguish between U.S. policy and the American people, but that distinction appears to have eroded in the past four years. Mr. Zogby said he first noticed a distinct shift in 2004. In the 2006 survey, only a plurality of Lebanese polled expressed a favorable view of the American people, with 44 percent approving and 18 percent expressing unfavorable views.

The American people are viewed least favorably in Saudi Arabia, where 18 percent said they had a favorable opinion and 34 percent expressed an unfavorable opinion. At the same time, 50 percent of Saudis say they like American products, compared with 24 percent who do not.

“Our policy [In Iraq] drags everything,” Mr. Zogby said. “The negatives have become very pronounced.”

Middle Eastern poll respondents cited the Iraq war and perceived U.S. support for Israel over the Palestinians as their biggest concerns. “One is the immediate wound while the other is the defining wound,” Mr. Zogby said.

The Iraq Study Group, which recently submitted a list of 79 policy recommendations to President Bush, says the Israeli-Arab conflict is tied directly to the escalating violence in Iraq. The group has recommended that the White House emphasize a broader Middle East peace process as part of its effort to improve the situation in Iraq.

“You can accomplish good things in Iraq but you need regional support,” Mr. Zogby said. “They would be wise to look at what the commission has proposed.”

The one aspect of U.S. society to receive a net positive rating from all five Middle Eastern countries was the American education system.

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