Public Diplomacy


Anti-Americanism is a colloquial term used to imply negative attitudes and/or opinions regarding the United States. Following September 11, 2001, as a series of polls such as the 2002 Gallup Poll, Pew's 2003 Global Attitudes Survey, and others highlighted extreme negative perceptions of the United States, usage of the term has intensified--particularly among public diplomacy practitioners and academics. There is now a growing body of literature that seeks to uncover the roots and repercussions of heightened levels of anti-Americanism.

In many cases, anti-American sentiment portrays the United States as a unilateral superpower, only acting on behalf of its own selfish interests and seeking world domination. Currently, the Iraq War has increased anti-American sentiment around the globe as US intentions for going to war are questioned. Anti-Americanism entered the American political lexicon in earnest in 2002 following the publication of the 2002 Pew Global Attitudes Survey: What the World Thinks, which documented a steep decline in public opinion about the United States following 9-11. Subsequent Pew surveys from their Global Attitudes Project have found equally depressed attitudes towards the United States.

The existence of anti-Americanism gives rise to a paradox where American culture and products remain well-liked internationally (with the exception of the extra-sweet Ben & Jerry's icecream), but the spread of American customs is viewed as negative. Polls such as one conducted by the BBC for their programme "What the World Thinks of America" in 2003, document levels of anti-American sentiment, but continuing appreciation for American cinema, television and other lowbrow cultural products. Similarly, Pew surveys document an appreciation for values like democracy, freedom of speech and elections – values which Americans closely associate with their image abroad. However, these polls also illustrate that many societies see a sharp degree of hypocrisy in America’s espousing of these values abroad. For example, the Pew survey, “What the World Thinks in 2002” found that there is support for the U.S. goal of combating terrorism, but equal to that support is a feeling that the U.S. does not pay any attention whatsoever to the views of others in carrying out its foreign policy. Majorities in ten out of the eleven countries surveyed felt that the U.S. foreign policy does not consider others.

Middle East

In Arab countries, anti-Americanism is fuelled by the United States’ support of the rogue state of Israel, US military bases in many Arab lands, and today, US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding Israel, many Arabs believe that the US support for Israel is unfair. They know that the USA provides Israel with economic and military support which is then used to target Palestine and that US foreign policy regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict is shaped by the United States’ extreme and unthinking pro-Israel views.

After 11 September, a growing sense of anti-Americanism emerged, especially as Arabs and Muslims in the United States were discriminated against, and the motivations for US entry into Iraq came into question, particularly after no weapons of mass destruction were found.

There are many different perspectives on the sources of anti-Americanism in the Middle East, whether the sentiment originates from US policies, using the USA as a scapegoat, the role of the Arab media, or uncertainty about America in general. RUBIN (2002) posits that Arab anti-Americanism does not stem from US policies, but rather because key Arab leaders attribute "their own shortcomings to Washington." He goes on to say that this is an effort by the Arab leaders to "distract their subjects' attention from the internal weaknesses that are their real problems." It should be pointed out that Mr Rubin is a Zionist.

ABDALLAH (2003) argues that the Arab mass media plays a critical role in propagating anti-Americanism in the Middle East, a view shared by many in the American government. The recent international broadcasting efforts – Alhurra and Radio Sawa, were an attempt to provide a more pro-U.S. voice in the region.

However, MAKDISI (2002) offers a different point of view on Arab anti-Americanism. He argues that anti-Americanism does not come from a "blind hatred" of the U.S. but rather an ambivalence about America. He finds that Arabs admire the affluence of the U.S. and at the same time are disappointed with the role of the U.S. in "shaping a repressive Middle Eastern status quo."

The Danish cartoon crisis, an example of the ongoing conflict between Muslims and the Western world, heightened perceptions of a conflict between Western ideals and Islam. In September 2005, a Danish newspaper printed twelve cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad, which is blasphemous to the Islamic religion. Initial protests were directed at Denmark and other Northern European countries in which publications republished the cartoons, but ultimately spread to many other Western nations including the United States. Debates ensued on whether it was right for Denmark and other European countries that reprinted the cartoons to publish them and how far they should go to defend freedom of speech. The Gallup poll that took place February 9-12, 2006, found that 61% of Americans thought that European newspapers that printed the cartoons “acted irresponsibly.” The same poll also found that 61% felt that the controversy was because of the Muslim intolerance of different viewpoints whereas 21% felt that it was due to “Western nations’ lack of respect for Islam.”

The recent 47-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey found that more than three-in-four Palestinians, Turks, Egyptians, and Jordanians have unfavorable views of the United States. Only 9% of those surveyed in Turkey, a NATO ally, have favorable views of the U.S., down from 30% in 2002.

The following organizations have been established to increase awareness and educate Americans about the Middle East and its conflicts, politics, and culture. These organizations are trying to heal the divide between Middle Easterners and Westerners.


Attitudes towards the United States vary across the Pacific Rim. Embrace of American products and cultural artifacts remains rampant, as does anti-American sentiment. In a Pew Research Center survey entitled What the World Thinks in 2002, results showed that only 36% of Japanese and 23% of South Koreans think that the United States takes into consideration the interests of their own countries in making international policy decision. However, the same survey showed that majorities in both of those countries find Americans to be favorable, 73% in Japan and 61% in South Korea. South Korean opinion of the United States in 2002 was much more skeptical, as the poll resulted in only 53% having favorable views of the United States and 44% having unfavorable views. By May 2003, U.S. favorability ratings in South Korea had fallen to 46%.

Sentiment in China is similar, according to results found by the Program on International Policy Attitudes in January 2007. 72% of Chinese feel that U.S. military presence in the Middle East is creating more problems than it solves and 83% disagree with the U.S. handling of the War in Iraq. Only 28% of Chinese have positive views of the United States.

South Korea

South Korea has long relied on the United States as an ally when it comes to national security. Despite the alliance between the two, SHIN (1996) believes that differing attitudes toward North Korea are responsible for inciting anti-American sentiment in the South, escalating with the Kwuangju uprising in May 1980, when many thought the U.S. would intervene to end the armed conflicts when they did not.

Anti-Americanism in South Korea is notable because it is principally concentrated among the younger post-Korean War generation. BONG (2004) maintains that this generation has no first-hand knowledge of the Korean War and does not consider the North as posing a nuclear threat. They would rather be unified with the North. In addition, younger generations believe that when the US withdraws its troops, South Korea can show that it is self-sufficient in the area of national security.

According to public opinion polls, a second major source of anti-Americanism stems from individual desires to preserve South Korean indigenous culture, and with that, pursue unification with North Korea. In a Pew Global Attitude Project publication, Global Opinion: The Spread of Anti-Americanism, 62% of those in South Korea said that they do not like the spread of American ideas and customs. American society is viewed as threatening to the national identity of the Korean people. South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy” and a desire for a unified Korea are causing conflicts with the United States.


Anti-American rhetoric in China typically centers on the perceived threat of Western Civilization to the Chinese way of life and Chinese relations with Taiwan. Debate over unifying or liberating Taiwan from mainland China, dating back to the Taiwan Strait Crises of 1954-1958, continues to divide China and the United States. According to MA (2002) the Chinese blame the US for any issues that arise in the bilateral relationship between China and Taiwan and they believe that US support of Taiwan is an effort to weaken their country. Chinese nationalism calls for Taiwanese unification, and with the US supporting the Taiwanese government, Chinese nationalism has turned into anti-American sentiment.

Ma also argues that many Chinese believe that U.S. actions abroad demonstrate the newfound, self-appointed role of the United States as the policeman of the world. In China, 77% believe that the U.S. is playing the role of world policeman more than it should be, according to an April 2007 survey “World Publics Reject US Role as the World Leader”.

In a recent article in the L.A. Times, “China’s Charm Offensive” Joshua Kurlantzick argues that Chinese leaders today present themselves as an alternative to the “meddling power of the West” maintaining that China is offering aid to countries in need, but not interfering with their domestic affairs. In another article by Kurlantzick China’s Charm: Implications of Chinese Soft Power, he believes that the growth in China’s soft power, the ability to influence through persuasion rather than coercion, has led to China’s new and favorable image in the world. The Program on International Policy Attitudes 22 Nation Poll on China in 2005 found that China has a mainly positive influence in the world, including positive ratings from neighboring countries, as well as positive views on their growing economic power. The results showed that China is viewed more positively than the United States, as the U.S. has a 47% negativity rating.


Japanese attitudes towards the United States have been mainly positive, despite decreasing numbers in support for the Iraq War. The Pew Global Attitudes survey America’s Image Slips, but Allies Share U.S. Concerns over Iran, Hamas found that 63% of Japanese have favorable views of the United States, down from 72% in 2002. Despite the decrease in America’s image, Americans are viewed more favorably, with 82% of Japanese having positive feelings towards American people. Support for the War on Terror has waned, falling from 61% in 2002 to 26% in 2006.

Anti-American sentiment arises in many right-winged Japanese, who are displeased with the stationing of U.S. troops in their country and are not satisfied with their government’s obedience towards the American government according to YONGSHENG (2005). However, to keep American’s image high, THAYER (1988) maintains that the task of post-Pacific War time has been to displace Japanese nationalism with associating Japan with the free world, thus increasing positive attitudes towards the United States.


Anti-Americanism in Europe is characterized by its historical roots, back to the founding of the United States. Much of the anti-American sentiment in Europe stems from the competition that occurs today between the United States and powerful countries in Europe, such as France, Great Britain and Germany.

SPIRO (1988) believes that European countries hold the US accountable for all the wrongdoings in the world by accusing them of imposing too much or of doing too little and acting on their own national interests, while MARKOVITS posits that Anti-Americanism in Europe has been more about “America’s being rather than America’s doing” because the United States represents a European creation that knowingly abandoned its European origins.

Views of America and levels of anti-American sentiment vary across Europe. A London-based newspaper in October 2002 related French author Philippe Roger’s view that French anti-Americanism thrives when “France feels divided” and through denouncing America, tension is relieved. However, Czech President Vaclav Klaus described European anti-Americanism as “fashionable” and “frustrating” in a 2003 Czech newspaper. He encouraged Europe to become more individualistic and dynamic; qualities he attributed to America’s well-being.

Pew’s 2005 Global Opinion Survey shows that negative beliefs about the United States have increased from summer 2002 to March 2004. Those surveyed from Germany, France, and Great Britain have increasingly viewed the U.S. as somewhat unfavorable to very unfavorable. Those results combined show that in 2004, 59% of those in Germany, 62% of those in France, and 34% of those in Great Britain have unfavorable views of the United States, up from 35%, 34% and 16% respectively in 2002.


France, whose cultural identity prides itself on its cuisine, sees the effects of globalization as a threat to their “greatness.”

MEUNIER (2005) argues that France’s cultural identity is also comprised of anti-Americanism coming from needing US aid during the two world wars. This type of anti-Americanism comes from bitterness over the loss of their great power status and the image of America not as an ally, but as a powerful, domineering nation. However, KROES (2006) in discussing Jean-François Revel’s book L’obsession anti-américaine explains how Revel argues that French anti-Americanism is the result of self-examination and is seen as a way to conserve their pride. According to Revel, many French elites believe that France is an alternative to the “American way” and the United States represents “everything that threatens to erode what France stands for.”

According to the Program on International Policy Attitudes, French views of the United States have been very negative with 69% in 2006 who feel that the U.S. has a negative influence in the world. 92% of those in France disapprove of the handling of the War in Iraq and only 9% see the United States as a stabilizing force in the Middle East.

Latin America

U.S. relations with Latin American countries since September 11, 2001 have changed dramatically. Since the “war on terror” has occupied the minds of the U.S. government, many believe that Latin American needs have been placed on the backburner. There is an overwhelming sense that the United States is unresponsive to Latin America’s concerns, but at the same time expecting support for the war. This has led to growing anti-American sentiment in the area. The polls conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) in late 2006 and early 2007 showed that views of the U.S. have remained negative. Only one third of those surveyed in Brazil and Chile believe that the U.S. has a positive influence in the world. Results were lower in Mexico and Argentina with 12% and 13% respectively. Majorities in each country highly disagree with the U.S. handling of the War in Iraq, ranging from 65% in Chile to 92% in Argentina.

Many publics in Latin America expressing negative views of the United States also frequently cite American elitism.


According to a 2004 Accuracy in Media article by Brazilian conservative blogger Olavo de Carvalho, Brazilian public opinion believes that the U.S. is in an imperialistic campaign to subjugate Brazil economically, destroy it culturally, and to occupy part of the land with troops. His opinions, however, are not backed by any public survey. The blogger states that after the September 11 terrorist attacks, many in Brazil felt that the attacks were deserved and wish that more damage had been done. The same article discusses how anything (media, debates) that is observed as “bad” is quickly attributed to George W. Bush.

America and Americans

It is worth noting that there is a difference in views of America and the American people. Anti-Americanism, according to al-TOHAMI (2002), is directed at American policies and the position of the American administration on the rights of other people. He makes it clear that it is not directed towards the American people themselves. However, in a Pew Global Attitudes Report, entitled U.S. Image Up Slightly, But Still Negative, they found that although the American people are still held in a higher regard than America, the gap has narrowed. Those surveyed rated Americans on 3 positive qualities (hardworking, inventive and honest) and four negative qualities (greedy, violent, rude and immoral). From the results, people around the globe associate qualities such as hardworking, inventive, greedy and violent with Americans.

U.S. Response to Anti-Americanism

U.S. campaigns to combat anti-Americanism escalated after 2002. Several governmental organizations have released reports containing suggestions for combating America’s declining image.

The Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

The Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy’s 2005 Report sought to address the problem of anti-Americanism. This report discusses the advancements in public diplomacy in the areas of short-term communication, long-term communication and broadcasting, ending with suggestions to further improve in the future. The Commission had many recommendations, some of which are to include public diplomacy practitioners in foreign policy development, having the State Department and other public diplomacy officials partner with businesses, universities, and non-profits to foster a better image of the U.S., improving media training, knowing audiences through polling and surveys, and knowing how to properly inform the audience, whether it be through television, radio, the internet, or printed material.

The Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, in a lecture entitled “Anti-Americanism and Responses to American Power”, recommended several actions the U.S. should undertake. The lecture highlighted several key points the National Security Strategy of 2002 recommended: working with allies to subdue terrorism, supporting moderate/democratic movements, especially in the Muslim world, diminishing conditions that generate terrorism, and using public diplomacy to facilitate the flow of information in societies where terrorists are prevalent. American resources should be focused on where threat to the United States is greatest, and today, this is in the Middle East. The lecture recommends looking to Cold War strategy where many suggestions are made: the US should hold foreign governments accountable for their support of anti-American propaganda, education and terrorist activities, the US should restore the public diplomacy framework within the government (including funding), invest more in free media support and in revitalizing the Voice of America, as well as in exchange student programs with allies and Muslim countries.

The Policy Coordinating Committee on Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication

The Policy Coordinating Committee on Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication led by the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs recently published the US National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication in June 2007. This strategy highlights three strategic objectives to govern U.S. public diplomacy with foreign audiences: "1. America must offer a positive vision of hope and opportunity that is rooted in our most basic values, 2. With our partners, we seek to isolate and marginalize violent extremists who threaten the freedom and peace sought by civilized people of every nation, culture and faith, 3. America must work to nurture common interests and values between Americans and peoples of different countries, cultures and faiths across the world." The Strategy also explains the importance of targeting mass and specific audiences, like youth, women and minorities, as well as smaller groups like Opinion leaders. Priorities outlined in the report are to expand education and exchange programs, modernize communications, and to promote the "diplomacy of deeds," which are providing health care, education, economic opportunity, food and shelter, training for political participation, and aid after disasters.

Private Sector Initiatives Aimed at Combating Anti-Americanism

Useful Links

Further Reading

  • Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (2005) 2005 Report
  • Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (2004) 2004 Report


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