- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

Freedom fries and axis of weasels: Could such phrases become obsolete?

According to the recently released Pew Global Attitudes survey, Americans have eased up on the negative feelings about France and Germany that intensified after the Iraq war began in 2003 — though the sentiment is not reciprocated.

The global press ignored these findings, concentrating instead on a blitz of stories emphasizing the “decline” of the United States’ image overseas. In addition, a Harris Poll suggests that Europeans consider the United States a bigger threat to world peace than Iran, China and North Korea.

The combination ultimately prompted an exasperated President Bush to deem the coverage “absurd” during a press conference in Austria on Wednesday.

However, journalists overlooked the telling American sentiments toward their neighbors.

For example, the Pew survey found that 39 percent of the French gave the U.S. a favorable rating. Yet more than half of the American respondents, in turn, approved of France.

“In every country where trends are available — with one exception — the image of France has declined significantly since 2005,” according to the survey. “The lone exception is the U.S., where 52 percent now have a favorable impression of France, still below the pre-Iraq war level of 79 percent in February 2002, but up from 46 percent last year.”

In May 2003, only 29 percent of Americans gave France a favorable grade.

“The improved attitudes in the U.S. toward France are part of a broader trend — the American public’s feelings about other major countries are also more positive than in 2005,” according to the Pew survey.

For example, 66 percent of Americans gave Germany a positive rating. Germans were not so expansive, however: Only 37 percent approved of the U.S.

A majority of Americans — 52 percent — also gave thumbs-up to China. That country’s opinion of the United States was poorer: 47 percent approved of the U.S.

Yet when asked whether they liked “Americans,” the numbers improved. In Japan, 82 percent approved. The number was 69 percent in Britain, 67 percent in India, 66 percent in Germany, 65 percent in France, 57 percent in Russia and 56 percent in Nigeria.

The survey was conducted in multiple countries March 31 through May 14 — polling 1,001 adults in the U.S., 902 in Germany, 905 in France and 2,180 in China, with a margin of error of four percentage points. The study was released June 13. A Pew spokesman declined to speculate about the improved U.S. outlook yesterday.

A study by New Jersey Medical School released last year might offer some insight. The survey of 2,000 adults found that 82 percent of Americans ages 18 to 44 feel optimistic about the future; 75 percent of those ages 45 to 64 and 64 percent of those older than 65 agreed.

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