What does the rest of the world think about us?

As the world's sole superpower (or "Hyperpower" as some of TV pundits who think they're really smart now like to say), the United States has a unique relationship with the rest of the world. We're the benevolent father, but we're also the bullying older brother and the dirty uncle. Trying to figure out our relationship with the rest of the world is like trying to figure out Father's Day in West Virginia.

Fortunately, the Pew Global Attitudes project has done some of the work for us. So named because it was sponsored by the Pew Research Center (not as a childish jab at the scent of foreigners), the project gathered data by polling 38,000 people in 44 countries. The New York Times says the project was the biggest poll of world opinion ever conducted. Despite this, they failed to interview me.

The questions were broad and had to do with lifestyle as well as politics. For example, the research shows that 51 percent of those polled in Uzbekistan enjoy American music, movies and TV, while only 20 percent of Bangladeshis feel the same way. Contrast that with the 98 percent of Americans who, upon reading this will be shocked to learn that there's a country called Uzbekistan and another called Bangladesh — and that they both apparently have electricity.

The poll's most important finding, as far as this column is concerned anyway, is that there's an increasingly negative view of the United States around the world. Not just in the freak countries where people think it's a good idea to hijack our planes and crash them into our buildings, but in countries with which we've had peaceful and prosperous relations for decades. Most people polled in France, Britain and Germany still like us, but those majorities are declining. In Turkey, a NATO country and home to important U.S. military installations, the percentage of people who like the U.S. fell from 52 percent two years ago to 30 percent this year. Our standing in South America also has slipped, this despite us graciously taking that godawful Shakira off their hands.

Surprisingly Russians have an increasingly positive opinion about us. Russian public approval of Americans jumped from 37 percent in 2000 to 61 percent this year. Considering they have a few thousand nukes pointed our way, that's a very positive development. Nigerian approval of us jumped from 46 percent to 77 percent in the same period. Anyone with an e-mail address probably has experienced that Nigerian goodwill first hand in the form of letters offering tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for your bank account number. Boy, those Nigerians are nice.

It isn't all that shocking that our standing is slipping in most other countries. People around the world are upset with our go-it-alone political/military attitude. The focal point of that dismay right now is Iraq. Majorities polled in France, Germany, Russia and even the United Kingdom (our invasion partner) are opposed to what they see as an impending unilateral, pre-emptive invasion of an admittedly shitty, but nevertheless sovereign, nation. Interestingly, the people of France, Germany and Russia, where the majority of the people polled liked us, think the main reason that we're going after Iraq now is oil.

One of the countries that was not polled was our "ally" Saudi Arabia. I'd be curious to find out more about public opinion in the country that birthed 15 of the 19 9-11 hijackers. Unfortunately though, you need a permit to conduct a poll in Saudi Arabia, and the Pew Research Center's request for one was denied by the Saudi royal family. Jerks.


The Pew Global Attitudes Project report can be found online at www.people-press.org.??

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