Monday, April 4, 2005

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A warming world and frosty Aussies

President Bush has had a pretty good foreign policy run as of late. Last month Europe decided to maintain its arms embargo on China (though this issue hasn't gone away) and this month accepted Paul Wolfowitz's nomination as World Bank President without firing a rhetorical shot. The French have returned to their usual exercises in Anglophobe hysteria -- now they're worried about the hegemony of Google.

In the rest of thw world, that whole "freedom on the march" deal is looking pretty good. Kyrgyzstan's transition to democracy "has been largely peaceful" according to the BBC. Syria has now set April 30th as the actual deadline for its military withdrawal from Lebanon. Finally, President Bush just had a fruitful meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, promising help in getting Ukraine into NATO and the WTO (though he didn't go as far as Slate's Peter Savodnik would have liked).

In Iraq, the news is also trending upwards. 64 Sunni scholars recently issued a fatwa declaring that Sunnis could join Iraq's security forces in order to prevent the country from falling into the "the hands of those who have caused chaos, destruction and violated the sanctities." The violent insurgency has died down as of late; Britain's senior military official in Iraq declared that the insurgents were "running out of steam."

So things are apparently going swimmingly for Bush. But -- you knew there was a "but" -- there's this Australian poll reported in the Economist that's nagging at me:

THERE are few stauncher allies of America than Australia. John Howard, the prime minister, was one of the first leaders to commit troops to the war in Iraq, and recently dispatched another contingent. His conservative coalition government has forged a free-trade agreement with the United States. Mr Howard may be right when he boasts that Australia's relationship with America has never been closer. But he is on shakier ground when he says that the American alliance is “very central to the Australian psyche”.

An opinion poll published on March 28th asked Australians to rank a list of 15 countries and regions by their “positive feelings”. America came eleventh, at 58%, just behind Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Only Indonesia, the Middle East, Iran and Iraq rated worse. The highest rating country (surprisingly, given their neighbourly rivalry) was New Zealand, which 94% of Australians felt positive about, followed by Britain, the EU and Japan.

The doubts about America did not stop there. Among ten potential threats from the outside world, 57% of Australians believed American foreign policies were as dangerous as Islamic fundamentalism. While 72% of Australians saw the American alliance as important for their country's security, more than two out of three thought Australia took too much notice of the United States in shaping its foreign policy. Asked if Australia should support America in any conflict with China over Taiwan, 72% said no.

Click here for the whole poll, which was sponsored by the Lowy Institute.

One could dismiss this as an irrelevant poll in a country led by a very pro-American government. Or one could think of this as one of those data points suggesting that other countries/populations are just biding their time until they can act to subvert U.S. interests.

I'll leave that debate to the readers.

posted by Dan on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM


I'd be interested to how these polls compare to similar ones taken in 1983 or 1988. I would not be shocked by results that aren't all that different.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

The highest rating country (surprisingly, given their neighbourly rivalry) was New Zealand

Big country-small country unilateral rivalry. Americans report much nicer feelings about Canada than vice-versa, while Canadians have vastly more knowledge about the US than vice-versa. The dynamic between Oz and NZ is substantially similar.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

At the moment I'm at a loss to understand which US interests Australia could subvert without subverting Australian interests as well. People get way too excited about these opinion polls, which -- in English-speaking countries that get news from America straight, without translators --are heavily influenced by the personal popularity of the incumbent American President.

President Bush is not popular in countries like Australia. He has never tried to be. Australians do not vote in American elections. Bush has never tried to make the Australian public (as opposed to John Howard) feel valued and important because, to him, they are not. It should not surprise anyone that people there are prepared to think the worst of him and, because the Presidency is so central in how American government policy is presented to the world, of the United States as well.

Does this matter? In the short run, no. The long run is a different matter, but Bush will not be President forever. As long as relations between American and Australian governments officials are kept in good order, any damage done to America's public image down under can be made up later.

posted by: Zathras on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

> Bush has never tried to make the Australian
> public (as opposed to John Howard) feel valued
> and important because, to him, they are not.

And here I was thinking it might be part of the President's job to make the citizens of our best allies and friends (Australia, South Korea, Poland) valued. Silly me. Not to say there wouldn't be exceptions, or times when you have to go against an allies' interest in favor of your own, but the Bush Administration seems to delight in seeing how often they can give friends the stiffarm and have them remain on your side.

> Or one could think of this as one of those data
> points suggesting that other
> countries/populations are just biding their time
> until they can act to subvert U.S. interests.

I have about 3 very good and very longtime friends. I don't ask their approval for what I do, but I often talk it over with them prior to making a decision. And when one of them says to me "in my opinion you are making a serious mistake", I think very hard about what they said before proceeding. Just another difference between me and W I guess. I don't make up sarcastic humiliating nicknames for my friends, either. Wonder what "special" nickname W has for Australia.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

I read the Sunni Clerics' statement differently. They said they did not want "the forces falling into the hands of those who have caused chaos, destruction and violated the sanctities". That doesn't seem to me like they're saying the insurgents have been responsible for causing "chaos, destructon" etc. [ That might be accurate, but they're not saying that]

posted by: Josh on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

Having the President's nominee to lead the World Bank without a rhetorical fight is a low benchmark for a "good foreign policy run".

posted by: Jon Moyer on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

That Australians would not go to war with the U.S. against China over Taiwan is not news - even John Howard's government has made it clear it could not support that.

But a broader alienation of the Australian public would be a disaster. Australia could, like other countries, just free ride off of the benefits it receives from the security America brings to trade routes and resources access. Yet as Foreign Secretary Alexander Downer has argued, it simply would not be right for Australia to allow the U.S. to bear the burden alone. Americans should be grateful for that, and should be sure they show it.

One important point to make is that last year the Bush Administration really caved in to special interests (the U.S. sugar lobby, as I remember) when it negotiated the free trade bill with Australia. It should have given the Australians full access, but did not.

Since this last point falls within Dan's specialization, I would like to see a post analyzing the Bush administration's policy of negotiating bilateral treaties, and the effect that this on Bush's broader foreign policy aims.

posted by: Kirk H. Sowell on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

Hmm. the Ukraine in NATO. What exactly is the benefit to our defense here? Yes, it's a nice little carrot to Ukraine, a buffer of sorts against Russia. But, is it really worth the financial and logistical costs?

posted by: cbarron on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

One important point to make is that last year the Bush Administration really caved in to special interests (the U.S. sugar lobby, as I remember)

And Howard caved into the Australian Sugar lobby - neither wanted it open.

posted by: giles on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

Just wanted to add a comment from Australia: while the Lowy poll has received a lot of attention in the Australian media, it should also be noted that it has also attracted a substantial amount of criticism. This criticism is primarily related to the wording of the questions. The following article provides a good summary of the issues:,5744,12704650%255E25377,00.html

In my opinion, Greg Sheridan (the author of the piece) is generally a hack; nonetheless, I think his article makes some good points.



posted by: Peter Doobes on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

What is the difference between this poll and many, many polls that find foreigners in general really like the US and what the US stands for but have very serious problems with US government policies ?

posted by: spencer on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

The thing that's mpst curious to me about this poll is that it clusters all of the EU under "Europe."

That forces respondents to view Eurpoe as a single entity. It seems likely to me that many people might view the EU as a whole positively and yet view different nations that comprise Europe less favorably. I'm very curious as to how Australians view America compared to France, Germany, Spain, and Russia, as well as Poland and other new eastern European nations. It's very curious and even dumbfounding to me that this poll chose NOT to explore this.

Instead they clustered a huge group of nations together and we ended up at the bottom of the list. That feels a little bit cooked to me.

posted by: bk on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

To me the significant thing is not so much the USA's popularity in Australia vis-a-vis Europe as the USA's popularity compared to China's (lower than China)

China is Australia's number three or number 2 trading partner, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it surpass Japan and the USA as the major trading partner in a few years.

China's influence continues to grow. A recent article in the WSJ mentioned how China's influence in Africa was growing.

posted by: erg on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

It's naturally more likely that high percentages of foreign nationals will dislike the US. It I think is a relatively low-meaning data-point. The US embodies a convservatism, that most leftists respond negatively to. The poll then is more of a reflection of Australian's political preferences. All in all, I'm happy that 57% of Australians seems to approve of America's conservatism.

posted by: Joel B. on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]


Who wants to follow China's example? How popular will they be if they seriously threaten Taiwan?

China is going to have a lot of economic power as time goes by. But, influence? Do they see themselves as marketing anything to the world beyond cheap goods (and, someday, surplus US dollars)? They remind me of America after our civil war -- economically pwerful, but not much interested in the world.

To the extent China will have influence, it will be as an example that prosperity can arise where there is no democracy. I don't see the Aussies as being terribly impressed, but maybe the collection of impoverished despots in Africa see something they might want to follow.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]


Certainly, if China were to invade Taiwan, that would be a catastrophic blow to their economy. US, most European and Japanese capital inflows would stop, there may be even be sanctions. Doubtless that would also throw the US into a recession, but China's economy would be devastated.

But China is going beyond marketing cheap goods. in Africa, they're disbursing aid, setting up local collaborations, transferring technology and the like. Its not just with dictators, as I understand, its with commercial organizations, local aid groups and the like. Africa is rich in natural resources, and could well be an alternate supplier to China.

Anyway, the fact that Australians view China (!!) more warmly than the US should be disturbing.

posted by: erg on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

re: "other countries/populations are just biding their time until they can act to subvert U.S. interests"

i see you subscribe to the john bolton school of political thought:

"It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so, because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States."

posted by: snacknuts on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

Australia, much more than the US, depends on exports for its prosperity. The Australian public is much more concerned about trade relations than the average American.

The areas where the Aussies have a comparative advantage is in growing stuff or digging stuff out of the ground, and shipping it overseas. China and Japan are relatively popular because they buy a lot of that stuff. America is less popular because it competes in many areas and because it has restricted Australian exports to the US (beef, wheat, steel come to mind).

So, one factor that counts against the US is trade relations.

Another factor is that Australia sometimes looks like an outpost of American economic imperialism. The domestic car industry is dominated by GM, Ford (and Toyota). McDonalds and the rest are a blight on the land. US multinationals are well entrenched in Australia. Even in areas like professional services, US firms dominate. That overwhelming presence causes a certain amount of resentment. Not that it is actually a bad thing, but the perception that the "bloody Yanks" own everything causes a certain amount of friction.

But, if push comes to shove, Australians will still remember that America saved them from becoming unwilling "partners" in Imperial Japan's co-prosperity sphere circa 1943.

(I write as someone who lived in Australia from 1977-1989, 1991-1993 and returns on periodic visits)

posted by: Pat on 04.04.05 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

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