Global Issues

The not-so-special relationship

According to a recent Telegraph poll (conducted by YouGov), British support for American politics, culture and role in the world is at a possible historic low. Granted there have been an inordinate number of these polls of late, usually conducted after a particularly contentious American action, gleefully reported by the media as further sign of a transatlantic rift. And, having spent a fair amount of time in the UK, I am willing to admit to witnessing my share of the uniquely Oxbridge brand of anti-Americanism. In the end though, most polls seem to reflect the reality that save on Iraq, and Bush I suppose, there is general good will between the two nations. The results from this one, however, are really quite astonishing.

For example:

  • 12% trust the US to act wisely in international affairs.
  • 11% see the US as a beacon to the world.
  • 65%, regard America‘s influence in the world today as predominantly malign.
  • 22% believe that the present American government’s policies and actions make the world a better place to live in.
  • 72% think George W Bush’s desire to spread freedom and democracy is really merely a proxy for American self-interest.
  • 77% think George W Bush is a “pretty poor” or “terrible” leader.
  • 72% believe American society is essentially “unequal”.
  • 73% think the US is “badly led”.
  • 73% think the US is ignorant of the outside world.
  • 83% think the US doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks (perhaps this one speaks best to the relevance of the poll).

As Anthony King puts it, “the so-called “special relationship” may still thrive in Downing Street and at Camp David but it has obviously atrophied among the British public.”

For what it’s worth, The US Embassy in London responded that their polling suggests a different level of support, and that “With respect to the poll’s assertions about American society, we bear some of the blame for not successfully communicating America‘s extraordinary dynamism.” The Telegraph editorial accompanying the poll rightly asserts that “To dislike a country as diverse as America is misanthropic: America, more than any other state, contains the full range of humanity between its coasts.”

But does any of this matter? At a general level, I tend to think that it does, at least at the extremes, based on a host of liberal internationalist arguments. I have also been finding myself sympathetic to recent Realist articulations on the value of global opinion, Walt’s latest book being a great example.

More specifically, if the sentiments reflected in this poll are representative, they will surely play a role in the next British election. While Blair has paid a heavy cost for his Atlantic alliance, if polls like this continue to emerge, the parameters of the debate will shift dramatically. This has implications for their role in both Iraq and Afghanistan – and hence, to the US. Cameron has already shown that he is willing to diverge dramatically from the Conservative establishment (on the environment for example), and is nothing if not politically astute.

Without getting into the validity of this particular poll, I have no idea how accurate it is or is not, I would be interested in the range of arguments for why none of this matters. Does power simply trump perception? Can the GWOT be fought without widespread public support? Can this all be written off to euro-elitism? While Edward Glick perfectly displayed the US antitheses of this elitisms yesterday, in an argument that I found utterly unconvincing, I am more than open to other arguments.

I know Porter doesn’t loose sleep over the ebb and flow of global opinion. Why not?