It was his worst showing since he became president five years ago, and marked a dramatic decline from his best performance on this question shortly after the U.S.-orchestrated ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan in February 2002, when three out of four respondents said that Bush was well respected abroad.
The survey, based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,002 adults Feb. 6-9, also found that only 43 percent of the public is satisfied with Washington's image in the world today, down from a high under Bush of 71 percent after the Taliban's ouster and another high of 69 percent during the invasion of Iraq in April 2003.
And, in a sign of possible things to come, the new survey found that for the first time since Bush became president, Iran is the country considered by a plurality of the public -- nearly one third -- as Washington's greatest foreign enemy, significantly ahead of Iraq (22 percent), North Korea (15 percent), and China (10 percent).
When asked to name Washington's greatest foe in two previous World Affairs polls in 2001 and 2005, Iran came in third behind either Iraq and China or Iraq and North Korea.
The Iran findings, which come amid a sharp rise in tensions between Tehran and Washington over Iran's nuclear program and controversial statements by Pres. Mahmoud Ahmedinejad over the past six months, echo those of a similar survey released last month by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press.
The survey, combined with another poll conducted by Gallup on behalf of CNN and USA Today Feb. 9-12, offers new evidence that the public is increasingly disillusioned with Bush's management of foreign policy.
In the latter survey, Gallup's pollsters found that 55 percent of the U.S. public now believes that Washington made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq -- the highest percentage recorded since the invasion except for a brief period after Hurricane Katrina last September, when 59 percent of respondents said it was a mistake.
Gallup analyst Jeffrey Jones noted in an article accompanying the poll results that of the six major conflicts in which the U.S. was engaged after World War II, only the Vietnam War provoked greater public opposition while the conflict was still taking place.
In two Vietnam-era surveys -- in 1971, when the Richard Nixon administration was already embarked on a major withdrawal of U.S. troops; and in 1973, on the eve of the signing of Paris Peace Accords -- some 60 percent of the public said the war was a "mistake."
The more recent survey also found the public to be more pessimistic about progress in the Iraq war than ever before, with only 31 percent saying the U.S. and its allies are winning.
That finding could bode particularly ill for the administration's hopes of resisting growing demands that Washington withdraw its troops earlier rather than later, particularly in the wake of last week's bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra and the sectarian violence that followed it. Most analysts here believe that pressure on the administration to withdraw U.S. troops will grow sharply if Iraq tips into civil war.
The latest poll results come amid growing political troubles for Bush who is having an increasingly difficult time keeping even Republican lawmakers in line on a number of national security issues.
The current flap over the administration's decision to approve, without a major national security review, the lease of some 20 terminals in six major East Coast ports to a Dubai company provoked an unprecedented revolt by the Republican Congressional leadership over an issue that has heretofore been considered Bush's strong point: national security.
"The revolt showed that Bush's strength in Congress has significantly eroded as he begins his sixth year as president," noted Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard and a staunch White House loyalist. "In effect, his Republican base is no longer secure."
Bush is also facing questions from both Democrats and Republicans about a proposed nuclear power deal with India which he hopes to nail down in a much-ballyhooed tour to the New Delhi and Islamabad this week. The White House had hoped that the tour -- especially to India, which is seen increasingly as a strategic ally -- would help restore his image as a decisive and visionary leader rallying the world behind him.
But that image appears increasingly hollow, according to the World Affairs survey, which suggests that most of his own compatriots have come to believe that he has lost the respect of his foreign counterparts.
The poll noted that the U.S. public was fairly skeptical of Bush as a respected world leader until the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, with an average of only 45 percent saying he was respected during his first six months in office, about the same as his predecessor, Bill Clinton. After 9/11 and the ouster of the Taliban, however, public opinion rallied to his side.
From early February, 2002, however, it's been downhill. Indeed, since February 2003 -- one month before the Iraq invasion -- pluralities said they believed that Bush didn't have much respect from the leaders of other countries, and, as of February 2004, those pluralities became majorities.
But the latest poll showed further significant erosion, with only one third of respondents insisting that he retains respect overseas, compared to nearly 40 percent one year ago.
In addition, for the second year in a row, more U.S. citizens believe that the overall perception of the U.S. in the rest of the world is unfavourable than those who believe it is favourable.
This belief is certainly borne out by recent polls. One conducted between October 2005 and January 2006 of citizens of 33 nations for the BBC World Service found that positive ratings of the U.S. had dropped five points overall since 2004, and had significantly declined in 10 countries -- including European allies like Britain and Italy.
And a Pew poll last June found that in 13 out of the 14 countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East surveyed -- the exception being Poland -- pluralities or majorities said Bush's re-election made them feel worse about the U.S. by margins that ranged from three to one to more than five to one.
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February 28, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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