George W. Bush is being sworn in as president of the United States for a second term Thursday in a lavish Washington ceremony amid mounting international concern that his new administration will make the world a more dangerous place. A poll in 21 countries published Wednesday -- reflecting opinion in Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia and Europe -- showed that a clear majority have grave fears about the next four years.
Fifty-eight percent of the 22,000 who took part in the poll, commissioned by the BBC World Service, said they expected Bush to have a negative impact on peace and security, compared with only 26 percent who considered him a positive force. The survey also indicated for the first time that dislike of Bush is translating into a dislike of Americans in general.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in an interview with the Guardian, expressed hope that Bush's second term would prove to be more consensual than the first. He said there had been an evolution in U.S. policy, witnessed by him in successive conversations with Bush. "Evolution comes from experience," Blair said.
Blair said that as part of a learning process that began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the U.S. administration had reached the conclusion that "in the end, we can take security and military measures against terrorism but ... the best prospect of peaceful coexistence lies in the spread of democracy and human rights." Asked if Bush had become a multilateralist, Blair said he could not speak for the president, but "it is significant, in my view, that he is coming to Europe as his first foreign visit." Bush is due in Europe at the end of next month.
The inauguration is taking place under unprecedented security in Washington as luminaries from across the country converge on the capital. Bush spent the eve of the ceremony to mark the start of his second term shuttling between a series of events: from three candlelight dinners to thank his biggest campaign donors to a "Celebration of Freedom" fireworks concert.
He described the election in Afghanistan late last year and the elections in Iraq planned for next week as "landmark events in the history of liberty." Bush also proclaimed his inauguration a "a sign of hope for freedom-loving people everywhere."
Aware of the damage that has been done to America's reputation by the war in Iraq and its approach to the Kyoto protocol on global warming, the nominee for secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, whose appointment was approved by a Senate committee yesterday, promised to try to repair relations with France, Germany and other countries bruised during the first term.
But Wednesdays poll pointed to the deep suspicion of Bush that exists across the world. It found that the bulk of people in 18 of the 21 countries surveyed had negative feelings about the U.S. president. Traditional U.S. allies in western Europe were among those expressing the most negative feelings.
In Britain, 64 percent of those polled said they disagreed with the proposition that the United States would have a mainly positive impact on the world. The figures were even higher in France (75 percent) and Germany (77 percent). Bush's victory was viewed positively in only three of the 21 countries: the Philippines, Poland and India.
One of the organizers of the poll, Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, said: "This is quite a grim picture for the U.S." Another of the organizers, Doug Miller, president of the polling firm GlobeScan, said he had been monitoring trends since the beginning of 2003 and that the figure for those who disagreed that the United States was having a mainly positive impact on the world had risen from 46 percent then to 49 percent last year, and had now jumped to 58 percent.
"Our research makes very clear that the reelection of President Bush has further isolated America from the world," he said. "It also supports the view of some Americans that unless his administration changes its approach to world affairs in its second term, it will continue to erode America's good name, and hence its ability to effectively influence world affairs."
Asked how Bush's reelection had affected their feelings toward Americans, 72 percent of those polled in Turkey said it made them feel worse about Americans, as did 65 percent in France, 59 percent in Brazil and 56 percent in Germany.
There was also overwhelming opposition to sending troops to Iraq, even among close allies such as Britain. "Fully one in four British citizens say the Bush reelection has made them more opposed to sending troops to Iraq, resulting in a total of 63 percent now opposed," Miller said.
The poll was conducted between Nov. 15 and Jan. 3 in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the U.K.
A separate poll, for the Los Angeles Times, shows Americans are also polarized over the prospect of Bushs second term, including over the conduct of the war in Iraq. Bush's job approval rating stands at 50 percent, with 47 percent disapproving. In recent times only Richard Nixon at the beginning of his second term in 1972 recorded poll ratings as poor.