The Obama administration’s increasing use of unmanned drone strikes to kill terror suspects is widely opposed around the world, according to a Pew Research Center survey on the U.S. image abroad.
In 17 out of 21 countries surveyed, more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, Pew said Wednesday.
But in the United States, the majority - 62 percent - approved the drone campaign, making American public opinion the clear exception.
“There remains a widespread perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries,” the Pew study authors said, especially in predominantly Muslim nations, where American anti-terrorism efforts are “still widely unpopular.”
The White House declined to comment on the report.
The Obama administration considers drone strikes one of its most effective tools to combat al Qaeda - preferable to conventional war because the strikes produce fewer American casualties and are intended to be more palatable abroad because the use of drones keeps U.S. troops on the ground to a minimum.
“In order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives, the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones,” White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said in April in a detailed and wide-ranging defense of the policy.
He said targets are chosen by weighing whether there is a way to capture the person against how much of a threat the person presents to Americans.
The global drone campaign under President Obama has killed several high-value leaders, arguably more than any other method including more than a decade of special operations raids inside Afghanistan.
A strike in Pakistan this month killed al Qaeda’s most recent second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi.
As conventional U.S. forces draw down from their missions overseas and drone strikes increase, the ire directed at invading armies is being transferred to the unmanned aerial devices.
“We continue to see the public thinking Obama has not fulfilled his promise that he would seek international approval for military force, and that’s related to displeasure with the drone strikes,” Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut said Tuesday in advance of the release of the survey, titled “Global Opinion of Obama Slips, International Policies Faulted.”
This is the first year Pew has included a question about the use of drones in its survey on the Obama administration, Mr. Kohut said. “It’s now a global issue,” he said.
The polls were nationally representative surveys conducted by telephone or in-person interviews in 21 countries in March and April.