Council on Foreign Relations, New York City, New York
Monday, September 17, 2007
JOSEPH A. KLEIN: Hi. Good evening, everybody. Good evening. Hi, I'm Joe Klein from -- oops. I'll wait until Dr. Sorenson finds his way. No, that's okay. (Laughs.) I got all the time in the world for you, Ted. I think we all do.
Joe Klein -- I am Joe Klein from Time Magazine. I am the moderator. Today, the topic is probably one that is closest to the heart of this organization of any that we deal with here, which is how the rest of the world sees us and thinks about us and what the rest of the world thinks about. This session is on-the-record, but it's not on-the-record for your cell phones and BlackBerrys and all the rest of that, so turn those things off.
We have a distinguished group. And the way this will proceed is I'm going to ask Andrew Kohut, the director of the Pew Research Center, to talk about this study which he's been doing for the last five or six years about global views of the United States. And then I'm going to turn to our two interlocutors, Mike Gerson over here to my right who was George W. Bush's chief speechwriter; and Jamie Rubin who was the spokesman for the State Department during the Albright era.
And with that, we've got a lot of territory to cover. After they speak and I ask a couple of moderator questions, it's going to be open to you, obviously. We'll try and get to that point as quickly as possible.
So take it away, Andy.
ANDREW KOHUT: Okay, thank you. I'm here to set the stage for the discussion to talk about what we've learned about the image of the United States over the past five years. We've done a survey each year. In total, we've interviewed 165,000 people. These were in-depth interviews. They weren't 10-minute interviews; they were half-hour and in some cases one-hour interviews. We've been in 54 different countries. And as a consequence, I think we've been the principal chroniclers of the rise of anti-Americanism in this decade.
Let me give you the leads from the various reports. In 2002, we interviewed in 43 countries, and our lead was that the image of the United States was slipping all around the world, but there was still a reserve of good will toward the U.S. with the idea of the United States' image slipping all around the world just less than a year after the 9/11 attacks, because the interviewing was done that summer, made big news. But the worst news really came in the next survey, the survey we did in the spring of 2003. The headline was very different. It said that the image of the United States had plummeted all around the world. This was, of course, after the war in Iraq. And the fat was in the fire, so to speak.
The next survey was done in 2004. In March of 2004, things were going pretty well in Iraq. A little while earlier we had captured Saddam Hussein. There wasn't really a full-blown insurgency, but we didn't see a recovery of the image of the United States, certainly not in the Muslim world, certainly not in Europe. In fact, the image of the United States was a little bit worse in Europe in 2004.
By 2005, we did see a bit of improvement -- some countries. American response to the tsunami aid was well-appreciated in Indonesia, India and other places. But by and large, we began to talk about the way anti-Americanism had become entrenched, and that was a word we used an awful lot in 2005. Similarly in 2006, we didn't see much movement. If anything, we saw a little bit of slippage in the polls.
This year in 2007 -- and I'll talk a little bit about the 2007 survey, but I want to give you the course of what we've learned in these many surveys about the image of the United States. But in any event, 2007 we went broader. This was the biggest survey that we've ever done. We did 47 nations. And our headline was that the image of the United States, discontent with America, anti-Americanism had deepened in the places or in the countries where it was existent, but it really hadn't widened.
As to the deepening, the image of the United States is very, very bad in the Muslim world. I think the most extraordinary example of it is in Turkey. Back in 2002, 55 percent of the Turks had a favorable view of the United States. In 2006, that fell to 12 percent. I said my gosh, that's not going anywhere. Well, this year it fell to 9 percent. (Laughter.)
In Western Europe and among our traditional allies, we saw a similar pattern. In Germany, the favorability rating for America in 2002 was 78 percent; it was down to 30 percent. And Germany wasn't the worst in Europe. In Spain, it's in the 20s. Clearly, in the places where the image of the United States had begun to decline, those declines have continued. And as I said, they've become more entrenched.
But the surprise in the survey this year was the extent to which the image of the U.S. hadn't really deteriorated that much, or if at all, in Africa. In the 10 nations in Africa, the U.S. favorable ratings were very, very positive. We also found positive ratings for the U.S. among the publics of our big trading partners -- India, South Korea, Japan. So it wasn't all bad news. We saw some signs that there were places where the image of the United States was actually still quite strong. But on balance, in 25 of 33 countries over this period of time, the U.S. ratings were down. In some places, they were very, very, very far down.
I'd like to tell you a little bit about what we've learned about the nature of this anti-Americanism. First of all, it's quite intense, and that's different. It's more intense than it was in the 1980s, when America's policies were disapproved of -- Reagan's get-tough policies. In some of these surveys, we and other polls have found our allies saying that we represent as great a threat to peace as North Korea and Iran. President Bush took exception to that finding last year. It is really pretty hard to hear Europeans saying that about the United States.
The other thing is that the image of the American people had been hurt somewhat. Americans are not hated in Europe, but the views of the American people are certainly less favorable than they once were. And there's been some consequence on the image of the American people, a very mixed image. Certainly in the Middle East, the American people are disliked, strongly disliked, if not hated, in many places. Not all places; not Turkey, for example, where the general view of the United States is so negative.
As to the causes of all this, I mean, what we've learned over the years is not going to shock you in some respects. In the Muslim world, the view that the United States is unfair in the way it deals with Israel and Palestine is the 800-pound gorilla closely followed by our presence in Iraq. The war on terrorism has never been seen as legitimate. It's seen as the United States picking on unfriendly Muslim countries. The war in Iraq has certainly -- our presence in Iraq has certainly worsened all of this. The anger is pervasive. The views that people hold, the positive views that we see people hold about Osama bin Laden in these countries -- which have been declining but nonetheless are incredibly high -- as much reflect the fact that he stuck his finger in the eye of the United States -- more reflect that than an affinity for what he believes in. So Muslim countries are really a different kettle of fish.
As to the rest of the world where the United States is not liked, the big factors are a perception that we act unilaterally, we do what we want, we don't wait for the assent of our allies, we don't look for international approval. The war in Iraq is the poster child for that, and the policies of the Bush administration are seen as unilateral, and that's the biggest general charge that's correlated with anti-Americanism.
Secondly, the U.S. does too little to deal with global problems, a view that's been prevalent in the first survey that we conducted, certainly prevalent in the views of people in the surveys that we did most recently.
A third factor is that the U.S. policies add to the gap between rich nations and poor nations, a view that even many Americans subscribe to.
Also that the United States is insincere. One of the most interesting questions in the poll that we asked this year -- in 47 of 47 countries, we found the majority of people saying the United States promotes democracy when they feel it serves its interest, not wherever it can.
Discontent with American policies have brought to the fore concern about American power. Throughout the 1990s, America had unrivaled power, but there was not the concern that we have about American power. There's suspicion and resentment of American power. People in Europe, in particular, but in all parts of the world where we're not well regarded think the United States wants to run the world, doesn't want to pay attention to the views of other people. And it's not just policies now going forward, it's a matter of regaining trust given the fact that we are so powerful.
Much has been made about the values gap between Americans and Europeans, and it's real. Americans have a different set of values about government, about the social safety net, about environmentalism, about the use of military force. All of those things are very, very, very apparent, but they are no more apparent than they were in 1990 when the United States was very well regarded. We think differently than the publics of our allies. Our values are not the central issue.
I'm going to wrap it up by saying what the latest poll found was broad discontent with the cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy. Not only are there worldwide calls for withdrawal from Iraq, but the publics of many if not most of our allies in Afghanistan, near-majorities are calling for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and France, Germany, Canada. The majorities want out. Only in Britain did we see continued support for a presence in Afghanistan.
Global support for the U.S. war on terror ebbs ever lower. The first survey that we did in the spring of 2002 found broad support for the war on terrorism. Those numbers go lower and lower.
And then finally in this survey, we found that the United States is increasingly blamed for the problem that's emerging worldwide as the most important problem facing the planet, and that is environmental problems. The United States is seen as a problem not a solution with respect to environmental issues.
And Joe, I'm going to leave it there so others --
KLEIN: Okay. To my mind, the weirdest little statistic that I saw in this is that of Israelis, a plurality, 42 percent, believe that the United States policy toward Israel is too pro-Israeli. (Laughter.) Let me ask you about -- let me ask you a couple of quick questions together. Today in The Washington Post, there was an op-ed by Karen Hughes, the assistant secretary in charge of public diplomacy.
KOHUT: Yeah. (Off mike commentary.) All that title for so little success. (Laughter.) But she mentioned a series of recent polls in which Osama bin Laden's ratings were declining precipitously in parts of the Islamic world. Is there anything in your study that relates to that or confirms it in any way?
KOHUT: Yeah. We've seen not recently but steadily over the past five years declining support for terrorism in the Muslim world. It mostly starts in countries where they've had some experience with it -- Indonesia, Morocco. The classic case is in Jordan. In Jordan before the Amman wedding bombings, 55 percent of the people said that they thought that suicide bombing that targeted civilians in defense of Islam was justifiable. It fell to 25 percent the next year. With those numbers go reactions to Osama bin Laden. So what she said was right.
KLEIN: And the other thing I'll ask you quickly is one area that you didn't cover that I found very interesting is that the world's opinion of China is getting worse as well. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
KOHUT: Yeah. Part of the headline this year was that there was really discontent with all the powers that be, including China. The image of China has declined around the world over the past four years. There's great concern about its growing military power and much worry about its increased economic power, particularly among the publics of other advanced nations who worry about the impact of China on their economies. In Asia and Latin America, China is seen as having a real presence, the same kind of presence that the United States has. And even though the image of the United States is positive in Africa, the image of China is at least as positive in many cases and more positive in other cases.
KLEIN: Okay. Let me turn to Mike. I should have mentioned before that Mike is a fellow at the Council now and also an op-ed columnist for The Washington Post. And Mike was one of the people who's most responsible for the Bush administration's policy in Africa, which resulted in the very best ratings that the United States received in any part of the world. So I'm going to ask you to respond in general to the study. But also I want to ask you, how can we get it so right in Africa and so wrong in the Middle East?
MICHAEL J. GERSON: (Laughs.) Well --
KLEIN: And what was it about Africa that we did get right? And can it be extrapolated?
GERSON: I thought it was one of the most hopeful things about the stud, where there wasn't too much hope, was that it is possible. I mean, America has always been popular in sub-Saharan Africa. That's not particularly new. But this is a circumstance where -- put it this way. I think that the Bush doctrine was fully orbed in Africa. Which is opposition to terror, which is true in Somalia and other places, but also a sincere commitment to the provision of alternatives, and the tripling of overseas development assistance to Africa, moving towards 2 million people on AIDS drugs.
In my experience in traveling during the Bush administration, it is one of the few places where I saw spontaneous outbursts of pro-Bush sentiment. And it's pretty extraordinary. You know, the reality there is -- I watched a decision made in the Oval Office in 2002 to pursue the largest program to fight a single disease in human history. That was unprecedented, and it's made a big impact. The fact of the matter is people all over Africa know the phrase PEPFAR which is not known in America.
And so for me --
KLEIN: Can you tell us what it is?
GERSON: Yeah, it's the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. And also, you know, the president's malaria initiative which is well-known over there.
And so, you know, I think as it was, you know, developed in its best form, the Bush doctrine included, you know, opposing threats as they arise, also promoting democratic transitions, but also promoting development, fighting disease as a ideological alternative. And I think that's been more successful in Africa, because the commitment has been greater.
KLEIN: If you were advising the president at this point on all of the rest of it, on how badly we're perceived in the world and especially the perception that we behave unilaterally and as a bully, what do you think the president can do about that? What do you think he should do?
GERSON: Obviously, I think that's a genuine problem. But I think it's, in a certain way, belied by the reality of diplomacy right now. If you look at Iran, if you look at North Korea, if you look at, you know, other efforts as far as cooperation in the war on terror, they are actually quite multilateral. They're taking, I think, a fairly successful and effective approach. And so one response would be that the reality is better than the polls. That America is cooperating, I think, you know, strongly and effectively on a variety of global challenges. I saw that from the perspective of the Sudan which was a model of multilateralism. That's not always a good thing, because there hasn't been a kind of level of urgency by the international community that I'd like to see.
But the reality is that we worked with the AU, and we worked with the Arab League and we worked with the United Nations. And it was -- you know, there were frustrations to that, but there has also been a significant amount of progress as far as a new peacekeeping force.
So you know, I guess that's one response is that there is a -- you know, I think the reality is better than the poll. I also think that there are bad reasons to be unpopular, like Guantanamo which I think is a problem that needs to be solved. I think that another bad reason to be unpopular is not being more aggressive on carbon, which I think we should be.
But of course, then there are also good reasons to be unpopular. For example, I mean, the polling indicates that one reason that America is unpopular in the world is because a significant amount of the world wants Israel on the bottom of the Mediterranean. And you know, that's not an option for American policy. A significant amount of the world wants the United States to essentially abandon our ally in Afghanistan, which would be a disastrous policy. And I would say even in Iraq that I'm not sure that if America took the advice of the world that we would gain credit from the world in a situation where we would look weak and failed in that circumstance.
So those are a few.
KLEIN: Okay, let me ask Jamie. First of all, you've been living in Europe for the last five years.
JAMES P. RUBIN: Seven.
KLEIN: Seven. Time flies when you're getting old, right? (Laughter.) The anti-Americanism there, according to the poll, is just, you know, it continues to deepen. And the question is, in your mind, how much of this will just evaporate the moment that George Bush is no longer president? And how much of it is something else? And how do you evaluate it?
RUBIN: I think a lot of it, and I think everyone would agree, that whoever the new president is, Democrat or Republican, there's going to be an effort, certainly on the part of government, to give them a second chance -- and elites as well. Whether people do, I think we'll have to see. One of the problems is that in the first term, there was this sense oh, we're not really anti-American, we're anti-Bush administration. Then the American people re-elected George Bush, and they couldn't say that anymore because they now had to accept that the American people, by majority vote, supported the president's policies, at least compared to the alternative. And so that deepened it dramatically. And I think that was at the point at which for many in Western Europe, perceptions of the United States changed, perhaps for a generation and at the younger-people level, at the level of culture. And a lot of the things that I watched changed -- I was there on September 11th in London, I watched people's reaction.
And as I mentioned to all of us in the ante room, for me, something went wrong very early on in the Guantanamo episode that Michael refers to. Which is I watched and, you know, everyone has their way of figuring out public opinion. And I went to my usual newsstand. And in early January 2002, I saw the papers from far left, and there are plenty of those in Britain, to far right, and there are plenty of those, too, changed about Guantanamo and prisoners. There were two events that happened simultaneously. The picture of the detainee in the jumpsuit and the chains was one thing. But the next day, there was the quote from the former secretary of Defense, 'I don't care how they're treated. Look what they did to us on September 11th.' And even the right in Britain found that offensive. And I think that's when the European -- they're a very legalistic society, and we're not as legalistic, at least in their minds, when it comes to international law. And I think that is not easily changeable.
Now, there are things that are changeable. And I think Mike did it exactly right. You've got to decide. We did this in the Clinton administration when Gingrich took over the Congress. We decided what were the things we could compromise on, what we were the hell-nos, and what were the things that we could really change policies about. And I think that's what the next president's going to have to do is pick things that policy changes can make a difference, things that you're going to have to perhaps negotiate more diplomatically and things that are in the hell-no category.
But the last point -- and I think we can have a debate over which should be in what grouping, but I think at least on this panel it seems that everybody would agree that Guantanamo would be one. But more importantly, I think it's very important to say, why does this matter? You know, this isn't a popularity contest. We don't want to be liked for its own sake. And I think that's where people haven't quite understood the significance of this, and everyone has their own way of describing the significance of it. But mine would be when I served in government, and the president or the secretary of State was about to arrive in a European state or a moderate Arab country or a moderate, newly-democratic country, we found that our interlocutor had an interest in making an agreement with us. A democratic interest that their people would give them benefits if the next day's newspaper said country x just made an agreement with the United States. That gave us leverage in negotiations, because they wanted that headline. I don't think they want that headline anymore.
KLEIN: Or they haven't been aware of it.
Let me ask you one last quick question, then we'll turn it open to everyone. To me, I think, you know, so much of this is about public diplomacy. And to me, the very bottom of the Bush administration moment in Iraq came when Jerry Bremer decided to design his own Iraqi flag that kind of looked like the Israeli flag. (Laughter.) And it just -- to me, that symbolized how little the administration knew about Iraq going in. But a good part of this you presided over in your administration at the behest of Jessie Helms -- the demise of the U.S. Information Agency. Do you think that that was a mistake? Do you think --
RUBIN: You told me you were going to give me softballs. (Laughter.)
KLEIN: Well, I gave him a little bit -- (inaudible).
RUBIN: People can re-examine the USIA merger for a lot of different reasons. It was a calculation made at the time where other things were important, like the chemical weapons convention that was stuck in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Many ambassadors, I believe, including some very dear to this organization, were being held up by Senator Helms. And this was a grand political calculation.
I could argue that the issue was not that USIA was folded into the State Department. The issue was that the funding for those programs was eliminated. Whether it was called the USIA or whether it was folded into the State Department, there was no funding for these programs. No attention was given to them. But you know, people say that, and I would tell you that when President Clinton traveled around, there were more than spontaneous outbursts of support for the president of the United States. I remember one time even in Gaza there were spontaneous outbursts of support for the United States after coming from Israel where there were massive outbursts of support for the United States. So you don't necessarily need a USIA banner on your public diplomacy programs to have good public diplomacy. A lot of it depends on how the principals speak. The biggest damage done to the United States, in my opinion, was allowing Donald Rumsfeld on TV so that the rest of the world could listen to him talk about them. And that's bad public diplomacy, with or without USIA.
KLEIN: Andy has a quick comment.
And Mike, if you want to come back on Rumsfeld.
KLEIN: And then get ready.
KOHUT: Well, I've spent, you know, five years listening to people asking questions about, well, does this really matter? And the thing to keep in mind about why this really matters is that public opinion is a player in foreign policy in much of the world in ways that it wasn't generations ago. The German election in 2003, anti-Americanism played a crucial role in the outcome of that election. The Spanish election in 2004. The fact that we could not use Turkey as a base for launching troops into Iraq reflected broad, public opposition to the very idea. The United States does have allied relationships and is working cooperatively with its allies and others, but working cooperatively is easier when you're trusted and liked than when you're not. And we are not trusted in many places. And we're not liked in many places. And those are real burdens for the country.
KLEIN: Mike, quickly.
GERSON: Yeah, I wanted to agree, first of all, that to some extent, the public diplomacy of deeds matters more than organizational detail. That was my experience. If I were, you know, an advocate of Egyptian democracy right now, I wouldn't think America was particularly consistent in the way it approached these things, the way that Iman Noor has been treated, the American reaction to these issues. So I mean, sometimes, you know, on that issue, sometimes the accusation is that America is somehow extreme on the democracy agenda. When in fact in significant portions of the world, it's viewed as inconsistent on the democracy agenda. And that itself is its own problem.
But that said, in my experience in government, the American public diplomacy efforts and democracy efforts were deeply disorganized -- very poorly directed.
Karen has made some progress on the rapid response side, on the, you know, education and exchange side. But we asked for review of democracy programs, we found literally thousands of program in several different departments of government. Most of the programs were -- had nothing to do with democracy at all. They were just essentially in that, you know, put in that fiscal category. And --
RUBIN: Democracy or public diplomas?
GERSON: Well, actually, I'm talking about both. But we look specifically at democracy promotion programs. And it was a total mess.
I assume that it's a similar kind of, you know, a divided effort between USAID and DOD which takes a lot of these efforts and other things. So I think there's actually work to be done there -- institutional work to try to get a more directed sort of effort.
KLEIN: I'll say.
Okay, questions? Back there. And let's make them questions and not speeches or rants.
QUESTIONER: In that case, forget it.
KLEIN: Very decorous audience. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Tom Shick (sp), American Express Company.
RUBIN: Hey, Tom.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Clearly a lot of people in the world, particularly in the Muslim world, don't like the purposes or what they would probably call the ideology behind American policy. My question is -- and I direct it to Mr. Kohut in the first instance and the rest can jump in if you find it attractive -- to what extent is the ineffectiveness of the policy a factor?
America has always been seen as a can-do nation. For the past seven years there have been a string of screw-ups, if you will to put it inelegantly, beginning with the way the 2000 election was handled. Obviously, Iraq is first and foremost the best example of that, the response to Katrina. America now has an image, I would think, of being a can't-do nation. To what extent is that an issue independent of the popularity of the policy?
KOHUT: Well, I think that a good deal of anti-Americanism is about not agreeing with our policies and not agreeing with our approach. Having said that though, if the United States had been more successful in Iraq, if that proved to be a quick mission that got rid of Saddam Hussein, got American troops out, the country was reasonably stable, the United States would have -- the image of the United States would have -- the views of the United States would have been enhanced.
This isn't the only issue, but like American politics, you've got ideology and you've got performance and you can never ignore judgments about how good a job the player, whether it's a government or a political leader, does in dealing with the issues that it tries to confront.
So performance is an issue -- it's not the only issue but it's a contributing factor. I don't think the view that the United States -- certainly it's a very important political view here can't do with regard to Katrina and with regard to Iraq -- it's more important but, you know, the general notion of the United States as not capable -- I don't think that that generically is a big deal because the concern about us is not what we can't do, it's a concern about our power and how we potentially misuse it.
KLEIN: Yes, over here. You should also identify yourselves and where you're from.
QUESTIONER: Yes, my name is Khalid Azim. I'm with UBS.
My question is, America still remains a destination for scores of immigrants from the Arab and Muslim world also, and still look to the U.S. as their preferred destination to immigrate to. How do you put that in the context with the analysis you've done on the popularity of the U.S.?
KOHUT: Well, two years ago we asked questions about where people wanted to go, and while a lot of people do come to the United States from these countries, when you ask them what are their first choice it's not often the United States. It's Australia or it's New Zealand or it's Canada or any of a number of places.
And you also have to take into account the kinds of people who come here and then the kinds of people who don't come here and go someplace else. So I think there are some consequences for who we attract and how much interest there is in coming here as a consequence of how we come --
KLEIN: Can you tell us about what sort of people choose not to come here and when --
KOHUT: Well, if -- well, Joe, if you think about, you know, the major issues of immigration, the people who are coming here are poor people who are coming here for jobs. The issue is, can we -- are we attracting the educated classes who -- and the skilled people who will enhance the United States?
KLEIN: But do they actually want to go someplace else or --
KOHUT: Well, why I'm telling you about the basis of this public opinion survey which showed on average, people in many parts of the world where traditionally immigrants came from, saying they want to go elsewhere.
GERSON: Just one small addition to that -- I still believe there is this basic hypocrisy in the people wearing Osama bin Laden t-shirt and then wanting to go visit their friends in the United States.
But -- and this may be a little bit of a commercial from the city I'm leaving, in the high finance area, in London, there has been a shift in the last several years of wealthy Arab people not wanting to be submitted to the kind of treatment they feel they get at the borders and that applies to high-tech, high-net worth people -- that's one of the reasons the hedge fund industry is largely based there in addition to the legislation here of Sarbanes-Oxley and other factors. But there is, I think, some shift in the -- let's call them the rich from the modern -- moderate Islamic world who used to come to New York and don't come here as much because of post-9/11 reality.
RUBIN: That's been one of Secretary Rice's consistent concerns about visas and harassment and a lot of other things.
I guess the only thing I would add just at the end is that poor people from abroad also made contributions to the United States. (Laughs.)
KLEIN: Quite a few.
Ted Sorenson. We're going to test the speech writer -- the bond of presidential speech writers here.
QUESTIONER: I'm Ted Sorenson of Paul, Weiss.
No, I respect Michael Gerson. He's probably the best presidential speech writer in this room -- (laughter) -- when you consider what he had to work with. (Laughter.)
In any event, my question is for Andy --
KLEIN: This is the kind of thing that goes on all the time when you guys have those speechwriting dinners.
QUESTIONER: Right, special meetings.
My question is for Andy who is as superb as always and just to dig into a little bit into this question of intensity of the negative image -- Michael and his comments kept brushing off unpopularity. I don't care much about unpopularity. Envy can lead to unpopularity. But a lot of people I'm in touch with around the world go much, much deeper in their dislike of the United States. They go -- they are at a stage of contempt and I think that's dangerous to our national security.
And I might add it's contempt by Africans for the much touted AIDS program because it prohibits the use of American funds on condoms. And as a result, tens of thousands, if not millions, of Africans have died. So they have contempt for the hypocrisy of claiming we're doing a lot for AIDS.
KOHUT: Well, I think there's little question that there's a deepness to the negative use we find in the surveys about the image of the United States.
Certainly one of the things that comes through to us is how much the images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -- the pictures are shaping the opinions of young people all around the world just the way the pictures of America in World War II and the Berlin Airlift and all of those things shaped the views of other generations of young people.
You know, we've asked questions about how much attention have you paid to these things. And it's almost universal attention -- people are aware of them, said they've seen them -- much more attention, by the way, than here in the United States.
So I think there -- maybe it's less shocking if you think about that to see that America is equated in Germany and Spain and France with the policies North Korea and Iran which is just unbelievable -- it was unbelievable the first time I heard it back in 2003 in surveys that Gallup had done in every major -- that the EU had done in every major country of European Union.
But I agree with you, it's very strongly held. It's not like the 1980s when there was discontent with Reagan's tough position but it didn't spread so widely and so deeply.
KLEIN: Yes -- woman in the back there? Could you speak up and -- or speak up into a microphone?
QUESTIONER: Mikayla Walch (sp). I'd like to know whether or not you keep any kind of a record of the way -- or the people that you interviewed -- not just country by country but women, youth, government agents, citizens, poor, rich -- and then also Americans living outside of this country?
KOHUT: We don't survey Americans living outside of this country. I've been asked about that many, many times but they represent such a small percentage of the people out there -- small number of people.
You know, these attitudes are very robust. They're apparent in all sectors of these societies. Certainly what we've seen and one of the troubling things is that there is pretty strong anti-Americanism among young people in the nations of our allies.
And one of the things that I've always been struck by was that there wasn't a more -- a much -- a more positive view of the people -- older people who remembered the United States during World War II and during the Cold War. So we are -- we're judged more critically by young people who are growing up on this terrible stuff about us and these images of us and things being written about us. But there isn't a long memory with respect to the image of the United States. There's not much of a gender gap in views about the U.S. So that's about what I can say about -- top of my head.
KLEIN: Gentleman in the front row. Looks like a term member.
QUESTIONER: No, not yet. My name's Lane Greene from the Economist Magazine. My --
RUBIN: Boo (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Boo for that?
My question is --
KLEIN: It came from Jamie.
QUESTIONER: For 2000?
My question is for Mr. Gerson, actually. And so Jamie, you might not want to boo.
I feel like probably everybody in this room is not just dismayed but maybe even a little angry that the most admired country in the world for so long is now so disliked by so many people and especially the young -- you mentioned the young -- well, what do the young know? On the other hand, they're the future. The people that remember the Berlin Airlift are dying. The people that remember al Qaeda, who are wearing those Osama t-shirts, they're the future.
But my question for Michael is, what mistakes do you think might have been made in the message making of the Bush administration, not just policy mistakes? I admire your honesty in mentioning Cardmann (sp) and mentioning Guantanamo -- but in the message making itself, what do you think might have been done differently?
GERSON: You know, it's so much a difficult question because I don't -- to go back to the point I was making earlier -- I found that at so many of these stages that objective circumstances determined public opinion. When the argument was that somehow if we would give this speech or say these words or have this formulation it would solve the problem.
That's often the input I would get from people -- conservatives that believed that if we were more forthright about the ideological struggle or others from a different camp that felt like we should be less forthright about the use of words good or evil or other things.
And so -- and I'm sure that there could have been adjustments in some of those things. But, you know, my worst day at the White House in many ways was the day of Abu Ghraib. That is -- I remember a good friend at the White House walking out of the senior staff meeting who was very strongly for the democracy agenda and saying, "It's undone everything we did." And, you know, so I do think that in many ways these pictures and practices and policies and failures, the initial stages the Iraq war, the problems that related to prisoner detention were the kind of ruling narrative in many ways.
If you talk with Karen, who I have about these things, there was a period when she would attempt to go out to audiences around the world and make a variety of points about America's goodness and American's policies and our development assistance and other things. And these topics were the only topic of discussion.
And that's -- you know, I think it's the reality. I'm a speechwriter by background. I believe in the power of rhetoric and words, but I guess one of the lessons that I brought out of the White House was, you know, if things are decaying in Iraq, the words don't matter that much. If there are, you know, images of abuse and lawlessness, the -- you know, the words which I think were careful and well constructed and furious don't matter as much. And so I guess my -- that's kind of one of my takeaways from government.
KLEIN: Let me use the moderator's prerogative at this point. Do you think that the Abu Ghraib situation might have been mitigated somewhat if high ranking resignations had been called for by the president rather than just the legal processes against people at the very bottom of the ladder? Do you think that the president should have demanded Donald Rumsfeld's resignation or accepted it when he offered it?
GERSON: I will tell you that I believe that the responses in that matter and on Guantanamo ended up being procedural rather than imaginative international leadership. That's -- I think that's a fact.
KLEIN: Yes, woman in the orange.
QUESTIONER: Veronica Kreshanini, the Council for Trade and Economic Corporation, United States-Russia.
So as a Russian I have ample opportunities to observe the opinions of my compatriots about the United States. And I would like to mention that together with the complaint about unilateral action of American in the field of foreign policy, Russians are particularly offended by the -- why America pretends to be the, quote, "consciousness" and the most moral judge in this situation.
And I think in Russia's case the notion of democracy has taken a major blow in these past years and I think it is connected to -- unfortunately to the foreign policy of the United States. And the -- well, in this case this developing democracy is the --
KLEIN: Question because we're getting down to --
QUESTIONER: Yes -- is damaged.
You mentioned that in the past few years the results in the study went even -- went in a negative direction and also the position of undersecretary or assistant secretary for public diplomacy was created, the same number of years ago. Would you see a correlation between these three events? (Laughter.)
KOHUT: No, it's --
KLEIN: I should mention that Russia's one of the few countries where the view of us has improved, right?
KOHUT: It's gone up -- it's gone up.
KLEIN: Four points-- we're up four points to 41 percent approval in Russia.
QUESTIONER: I saw that -- (inaudible) --.
KLEIN: Margin of error.
No, I don't think that, you know, that -- there's not cause and effect here. I mean, I just -- following up on that question and the question earlier, what you say matters, but what you do matters more -- much more than what you say.
And I don't think that public diplomacy's the problem. It certainly hasn't been the solution.
KLEIN: Take this gentleman down here in the front.
QUESTIONER: Thanks. My name is Roland Paul (sp). I'm a lawyer.
Listening to you, it seemed like there were four reasons that explained most of all the results that you got up with -- two of which you've addressed. One was the Israeli-Palestinian issue as it affects the Arab world. Number two, which this gentleman spoke about was weakness among the powerful; in other words, we look very weak in Iraq.
But the other two that haven't been mentioned that maybe you could address, one was relative to Europe, I just -- they have a feeling of more irrelevance than they used to and their reaction to the United States is generated by their own feeling that we haven't catered to their -- we have aborted that feeling of irrelevant as it used to.
But the more important one is opinion is what opinionmakers make it to be and al Jazeera is a -- an audience of 40 million people. Would you say that a lot of what you hear is because we have al Jazeeras and al Arabia put on. That's what they're going to focus -- that's what you're going to see. And it's also true in this country, I wonder..
KOHUT: Well, I mean, I don't think this reflects opinions about the United States and Middle East reflects the impact of Al-Jazeera and al Arabia. I mean, there are some scholars have shown that there's not much relationship between how people get their news in the Middle East and what their views are. Their views are more generally based.
I don't know how to add to that.
GERSON: Let me -- I can say one thing here, many Americans don't realize that the views of say the Saudi royal family toward Al-Jazeera are more negative than the views of the Bush administration toward Al-Jazeera. In fact they tend to arrest people who give interviews to Al-Jazeera. In many ways Al-Jazeera has been a force for freedom in the Middle East.
RUBIN: But just on the European thing, I think Mike is right. Recently the Europeans have mattered on Iran. The Bush administration has gone on to quite large effort to bring support from France and Brittan and Germany in.
And I think basically what you're talking about there is two things, is the Iraq war and the environment. And that's -- those are the two issues. They're not fixable until there's a new president. And so I think a lot of the things we're going to throw out here now and opinions and attitudes, they're going to change when we have a new president who may have to keep troops in Iraq but won't be blamed for starting the war over the objections of the rest of the world.
Well, fair enough. And won't I think no matter who it is take this same initial steps on global warming of throwing away the Kyoto agreement in the way the Bush administration did.
GERSON: I would only add -- I don't think that, you know, propaganda -- anti-Semitic and anti-American propaganda in the Middle East determines these, you know, ups and downs. But I think it does have a long-term effect. I mean, Egypt is, you know, in their public media is perhaps the main source of anti-Semitic and anti-American propaganda in the world.
You would read their reports on the Sudan which I did -- translated reports and talk about, you know, America trying to convert the country to Christianity and trying to steal the oil and other things. There's a deep strain of conspiracy theories in a lot of these medias that are broadly believed and that, you know, relating to 9/11 and the role of Jews in the world and other things. And that eventually, you know, over time has an influence on public opinion.
So I have always thought that America should be more forceful in confronting essentially the governments that sponsor these things because they do it for a reason. I think they actually draw attention to foreign enemies to cover the fact -- to cover their own failures.
RUBIN: But, Mike, I think that was always true. That was true in the '90s and the '80s we had the same level of conspiracy in the media and the polling results showed that something's changed. And I suspect one of the things that will be done by the next president is, again, there's a perception that's not fixable no matter how well the secretary of state works that this president didn't focus on Middle East peace process.
Even if he did -- and you make all the arguments about all the secret effort he made on the telephone and working the phones and all that -- there's a perception that he wasn't trying very hard. And I think in that area there is a policy that has in effect even if it fails and that's trying to negotiate the Middle East, having the secretary of State fly over there, seeing that as part of their job. Even if they fail, the one area where you're allowed to fail and everybody doesn't think you're weak because they know how hard it is. And that pervades all of those Arab attitudes is the fact that that didn't take place.
KLEIN: Let me just -- we're coming up to 7:00. Let me take two more questions. There have several very patient people here. This gentleman over here and then you've been pretty patient back there.
QUESTIONER: I certainly agree with Andy -- sorry -- I certainly agree with Andy that --
KLEIN: Who are you?
QUESTIONER: Don Wilson (sp), sorry -- retired. (Laughs.) Formally of Time Incorporated.
I'd agree with --
KLEIN: I've heard of the joint.
KLEIN: I've heard of the joint.
QUESTIONER: I know you did. That's why I told you. (Laughs.)
I certainly agree with Andy that our image and the view of the United States abroad is considerable to a major degree policy and our handling of our policy abroad. However I thought he perhaps minimalized a little bit the role of the people who support that policy whether it's USAI or people down in the State Department.
And I do think that there have been -- I think it's important what role the president, whoever he may be, gives to the information body that is putting out information about the United States of America. I think that was particularly true for a number of years. I'm not sure that the information people are given the role in the White House that they were maybe 10, 20, 30 years ago.
KLEIN: Okay. Does anybody have a comment to that. No?
And yes, finally.
QUESTIONER: Thanks, Joe. I'm -- (inaudible) -- and I do not work for the Economist.
But judging by the readability and readership of your columns I think America is doing fine. I've been living overseas now for the last year-and-a-half or so.
Someone said something about wearing Osama t-shirts but I see more t-shirts that bear the image of George Clooney and some bearing the image of Angelina Jolie. Why not focus instead on culture and promoting America as the engine of growth -- economic growth around the world and let politics be as it is? Not everyone is a terrorist and let cultures be as they are.
KLEIN: Well, you know, let me just point out -- one of the most interesting things about this survey is that people tend to love our movies and our high-tech but they don't like our ideas and customs. Now, what does that mean, Andy?
KOHUT: It means that there's backlash.
KLEIN: It's a good way of wrapping this all up.
KOHUT: Part of this -- and I would say a relatively small part of it but an important part nonetheless -- is that there's backlash to the Americanization of the planet in the eyes of people all around the world. There's too much America, people tell us in their countries even though they embrace our pop culture, like and respect our technology.
And this is an issue that -- one that we have to contend with. I'm going to give you a quick 20-second report on the second report in this series this year which showed that people were happier all around the world than they were five years ago, particularly in the middle income and developing countries because GDP has increased. And global trade has had a positive -- to your point -- global trade has a positive impact on how people see their lives. And I would recommend that you read the report that we issued in July which didn't get nearly as much attention as the anti-Americanism report about the ways in which a richer planet is a happier planet and that's a consequence of trade.
KLEIN: Well, I'd like to thank the panel -- you've all done a wonderful job -- and especially Andy for coming back year after year with his reports. And I'm sure that even after George Bush isn't president of the United States we're going to have problems in this regard.
Thank you all very much.
RUBIN: Thank you, Joe.
GERSON: Thank you, sir.
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