Anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world has reached startling levels, but positive U.S. policies like disaster-relief efforts can help reverse the trend, according to poll results released yesterday.
The data also showed that large numbers of people in several of Iran’s neighboring countries — including 70 percent in Pakistan — would favor a nuclear-armed Iran.
Terror Free Tomorrow, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with Sen. John McCain and several members of the 9/11 commission on its advisory board, commissioned the wide-ranging poll on nuclear programs and anti-Western sentiment among Iran’s neighbors.
When asked how they viewed the United States, 89 percent in Saudi Arabia, 84 percent in the United Arab Emirates, 71 percent in Turkey and 64 percent in Pakistan answered “unfavorable.” Additionally, 66 percent of Pakistanis opposed the U.S.-led fight against terrorism.
Ken Ballen, president of Terror Free Tomorrow and a former federal prosecutor and counsel to the Iran-Contra committee, said the poll results were “startling” and showed that radical anti-Western views were becoming the consensus in the Muslim world.
“U.S. policy-makers need to take these opinions into account. I know we don’t make policies based on poll data, but we need to try to understand why these radical ideas are gaining traction and figure out if our policies are being counterproductive,” said Mr. Ballen.
According to the polls, 67 percent in both Pakistan and Turkey and 65 percent in Saudi Arabia viewed a series of Danish cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad as evidence that the West is antagonistic toward Islam.
Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department’s Middle East intelligence shop, said, “Unfortunately, a lot of this is true. [Al Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden succeeded in generating an impression that there is a war of cultures, a divide between East and West, Christian and Muslim.”
Mr. Ballen said there was “a silver lining” to the poll results. “Positive U.S. policies like earthquake relief in Pakistan and tsunami aid in Indonesia improved pro-Western attitudes.”
The polls showed that U.S. aid promoted a more favorable view of the United States among 75 percent of Pakistanis and 63 percent of Indonesians.
“Many people in that region have seen too much of the military side of the U.S. and not enough of the humanitarian side,” Mr. White said. “But it’s hard for the U.S. to step up programs there because with budget constraints and financing the war in Iraq, the money just isn’t there to do everything.”
Among Palestinians, 68 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the United States, but 60 percent said that they wanted the United States to do more to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Mr. White said, “This seems confusing because the U.S. is seen as such a big ally of Israel. The Palestinians might not like a lot of the things that the U.S. does, but they know if there is anyone on the globe who can talk Israel into being more reasonable, it’s Washington.”
When asked about nuclear programs in Iran, 68 percent in Pakistan, 46 percent in Saudi Arabia and 44 percent in Turkey said that they would prefer the United States to accept a nuclear Iran rather than intervene to prevent it.
“I don’t think they really support nuclear weapons in Iran,” Mr. White said. “It’s probably more of a pushback against the U.S., basically saying that they’d mind that a lot less than more U.S. involvement in the region.”
Frederic Grare, a South Asia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the nearly 70 percent support for Iranian nuclear weapons in Pakistan simply reflected that country’s own interests.
“If you ask the elite in Pakistan, they are increasingly insecure with nuclear weapons in Iran. But there is always the fear that if steps are taken to limit Iran, they might be next. Pakistan has only two main interests: Kashmir and nuclear weapons. And they will protect them.
“Also, Pakistan wants to keep good relations with Iran right now, because they are getting closer to India, a rival of Pakistan,” he said.