WASHINGTON — The increasing use of deadly drone strikes against suspected militants, a major component of the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism policy, is widely opposed around the world, according to a Pew Research Center survey on the US image abroad.
In 17 out of 21 countries surveyed, more than half of the people disapproved of US drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, Pew said Wednesday.
But in the United States, a majority, or 62 per cent, approved the drone campaign, making American public opinion the clear exception.
“There remains a widespread perception that the US acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries,” the 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.
Pakistan as well as experts from the United Nations and Europe have been condemning the drone attacks, saying they violate international law and state sovereignty.
But the US justifies the drone campaign. “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 defence 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. “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 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, 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. In Yemen, both military and CIA drones have stepped up the campaign against Al-Qaeda’s branch there, considered the most deadly threat to US interests. Those strikes are carried out in coordination with Yemeni officials, with Yemenis signing off on the targets, Yemeni and US officials say.
In Somalia, drones are used less frequently. With no formal government in the war-torn, failed state, there is no one for the US to ask permission, but officials have been careful to keep both CIA and military strikes focused on suspects considered to be high-value targets, rather than targeting large training camps where dozens of would-be militants are learning their trade. The idea is to remove the leaders rather than killing large numbers of trainees and pulling their extended families into battle of revenge against the Americans.
Majorities or pluralities in 12 countries express a favorable opinion of the United States, while the prevailing view is negative in only five nations, the survey said. In three countries views are closely divided.
Attitudes toward the US are generally more positive today than in 2008, the final year of the George W Bush administration. The biggest improvements in America’s image have occurred among Europeans – in France, Spain, and Germany, the percentage of people with a positive view of the US is at least 20 percentage points higher than in 2008.
However, some of the initial surge in pro-American sentiments that followed Obama’s election has waned in Western Europe, especially in Germany where 64 per cent had a favorable opinion of the US in 2009, compared to 52 per cent today.
In Japan, 72 per cent currently express a favorable opinion of the US, up from 50 per cent four years ago. America’s image in Japan improved dramatically in 2011, due in part to American relief efforts following the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Fully 85 per cent of Japanese respondents expressed a positive view of the US in last year’s poll. In a number of strategically important Muslim nations, America’s image has not improved during the Obama presidency. In fact, America’s already low 2008 ratings have slipped even further in Jordan and Pakistan, it said.
Even in many nations where overall ratings for the US remain low, however, certain aspects of American ‘soft power’ are often well-regarded. For instance, the American way of doing business is especially popular in the Arab World – more than half in Lebanon (63%), Tunisia (59%), Jordan (59%) and Egypt (52%) say they like this element of America’s image.
Majorities or pluralities in 18 of 20 countries admire the US for its science and technology, and most of the publics surveyed embrace American music, movies and television. Around the world, US ideas about democracy and American ways of doing business have become more popular since Obama took office.
American soft power is often particularly appealing to young people, according to the survey. In particular, US popular culture and American ideas about democracy are more popular among people under 30.
Still, even as they embrace certain features of American culture, people worry that it may crowd out their own cultures and traditions – majorities or pluralities in 17 of 20 countries say it is a bad thing that US ideas and customs are spreading to their countries.