It was a graphic representation of global dissatisfaction with the United States. Provisions Library in Washington, DC put on an exhibit of international political cartoons and how they depict U.S. relations with the world. On September 14, FPIF joined Provisions in inviting Clay Ramsay of the Program on International Policy Attitudes to discuss whether international polling supported the generally negative portrayals of the cartoons.

Ramsay, PIPA’s research director and author of The Ideology of the Great Fear, discussed how global attitudes toward the United States have considerably worsened in the last six years. Although several countries maintain a relatively positive stance toward America–the Philippines, India, Poland, parts of Africa–most of the world would prefer to see Europe take a more influential role in global affairs. The war in Iraq certainly damaged America’s reputation, but the related transformation of U.S. policy on human rights also contributed to the slide in popularity.

Here we excerpt from Clay Ramsay’s comments.

Clay Ramsay

If you haven’t yet had a chance to look, this exhibit is fascinating–and it also shows the degree to which cartoonists have a fairly common language of images today, including perhaps Tom Toles in the Washington Post ! I’ll try to show you, through international polls, something about how the United States is perceived by the world public–and these underlying perceptions provide, if I can use the expression, a broad dance floor on which the cartoonists can dance.

I’ll use mostly surveys done by PIPA and GlobeScan to tell a story that corresponds fairly well to the time period of these cartoons. But first let me address a question that often comes up: Was the image of the United States a positive one in the world before? After all, the world’s most powerful country is going to attract a little flak.

Here’s the comparison between how favorably the United States was viewed in 1999 and 2000 compared to 2004. In 2000, Russia was the only one of these six countries where there was NOT a majority with favorable view of the U.S. The losses over that time varied from 25 to 50 points.

State Department Office of Research; Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 2004

A key dynamic in this persistence of negative judgments is the cloud of human rights and legal issues that hangs over the way the war on terrorism is conducted.

In June 2006 we polled the Germans, British, Poles, and Indians on these issues, at the same time as we conducted a much larger study of Americans. We chose these countries for various reasons. Germans and British have been directly affected by issues around rendition and Guantanamo Bay. Poles are Europeans with a warmer view of the United States, but they have also been directly connected. Indians have serious terrorism problems of their own to deal with, and are also warmer toward the United States.

In all these countries, there was no plurality that perceived current U.S. policies as legal according to international treaties., June 2006

In conclusion, I want to emphasize just two points.

First, one often hears it said that the U.S. image in the world was never that great–that since America is a hegemonic power that has no rival among states, that there will always be a fair amount of dislike. This is simply not true, and not borne out by the data. Seven years ago the United States had a vastly more positive image than it has today. The silver lining there is that, logically, there is also a potential for reversing the damage.

Second, the negative feelings are driven by U.S. policies, and among these policies those that have to do with human rights play a special role. The issues of rendition, Guantanamo Bay, and compliance with the Geneva Conventions are important because the United States has made and keeps making large claims in the human rights realm. This is where publics in some countries, like Germany and Britain, go from being the loyal opposition to refusing to give the United States the benefit of the doubt after a while.

Once the administration turned its Iraq problem into a human rights problem as well, this presented an extremely potent composite image about U.S. actions, and this is an image you’re seeing around these walls.

Clay Ramsay is the research director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes ( and the author of The Ideology of the Great Fear.

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