11 September 2001>News Stories>Opinion Leaders: U.S. Policies Major Reason for Terrorist Attacks

Opinion Leaders: U.S. Policies Major Reason for Terrorist Attacks
Keith B. Richburg . Washington Post . 19 December

PARIS, Dec. 19 -- Opinion leaders around the world say the United States is admired as the land of opportunity and democratic ideals, but large numbers see American policies as a major reason for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, according to a new survey of "elite" opinion in two dozen nations.

By large majorities, a sampling of the political, media and business elite on five continents believe the United States is mostly acting unilaterally in the fight against terrorism, the survey showed. By contrast, American opinion-makers believed by a margin of 70 percent to 28 percent that the United States is acting jointly with its friends, taking into account the interests of its partners in the war on terrorism, the survey found.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center, Princeton Survey Research Associates and the International Herald Tribune newspaper, gives further evidence of the gap between how Americans view themselves and how others in the world do.

Asked whether the United States and its allies should attack other countries such as Iraq or Somalia, if found to be supporting terrorism, half of American opinion-makers said yes, but more than half of the non-Americans said no. Eastern Europeans, Asians and Middle Easterners were most reluctant to extend the war beyond Afghanistan, while Western European opinion-makers appeared evenly divided.

When asked whether "U.S. policies and actions in the world" were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, the survey showed that a majority of those questioned outside the U.S. said they were the cause. Only a small number of Americans thought so.

Likewise, American opinion-makers overwhelmingly expressed the view that the United States is disliked in the world for its support of Israel. That reason also was given by elites in the Middle East. But outsidethe Middle East, respondents said resentment of U.S. power and the growing gap between rich and poor were more important factors.

The survey canvassed the views of opinion-setters in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, and was conducted from Nov. 12 to Dec. 13, well after the terror attacks and in the midst of the war in Afghanistan.

The findings were based on 275 interviews with persons identified as "influential" in either government, politics, culture, the media or business. Some 40 interviews were conducted in the U.S., and approximately 10 each in separate countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The findings are the latest in Pew's "Global Attitudes Project," initially intended to primarily measure world views on globalization, but will now survey attitudes to the new war on terrorism.

Most striking about the latest survey, said Pew Research Center director Andrew Kohut, is that "people are saying this is a new chapter in history, but when you look at how elites characterize public opinion about America, it's very familiar it's this love-hate thing."

"And there's this big gap," Kohut said. For example, he said, when elites were asked the reasons why people in their country like the United States, large majorities everywhere - from 63 percent in Western Europe to a full 86 percent in the Middle East - said America's scientific and technological advances were most admired. However only 32 percent of American opinion-makers thought that was a reason the U.S. was admired in the world.

American opinion-makers, by 52 percent, thought America was admired because it does "a lot of good around the world." By contrast, majorities everywhere else on earth thought America's supposed good works were a minor reason or not a reason at all that the country was admired.

On the war against terrorism, "it's a very mixed image," Kohut said. Overall, opinion leaders say large numbers of people in their countries are sympathetic to America after the terrorist attacks. But at the same time, surprisingly large numbers say people in their countries feel America is "overreacting" to the terrorist attacks; 53 percent say so in Eastern Europe and Russia, 62 percent say so in the Middle East, 40 percent say so in Latin America and 42 percent in Asia. Only in Europe did a small percentage, just 27 percent, think the U.S. was "overreacting."