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Inside Politics

Students debate significance of ailing U.S. image

Since Iraq war, America's image abroad is deteriorating

By Kerry-Ann Hamilton
Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Kerry-Ann Hamilton, a masters candidate in International Relations at American University in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or American University.

Kerry-Ann Hamilton is a masters candidate in International Relations at American University.
America Votes 2004
Peace Corps
American University

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Many American University students believe that restoring the image of the United States abroad is a top priority -- and it will be a key issue in the election.

The image of America abroad is deteriorating. A March 2004 study conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that a year after the invasion of Iraq, the image of the United States has remained negative or worsened in most of the nations surveyed.

In France, Germany and Great Britain -- the principal partner in the U.S.-led war -- U.S. favorability ratings have plummeted from the summer of 2002 to March 2004.

"Perceptions of the American unilateralism remain widespread in European and Muslim nations and the war in Iraq has undermined America's credibility abroad," the report revealed.

Jeanie Mcadams, a master's candidate in International Communications at American University, said the study's results come as no surprise.

"This issue should play a large role in an election year, since [President] Bush's lack of diplomacy has piled fuel on the burning resentment that many Iraqis and others feel toward the U.S.," she said.

"The only way to cool this anger at this late date would be to replace the symbol of Iraq's frustration -- Bush -- with a new face, preferably with a leader who has strong communications skills, a broader understanding of the world beyond our own borders," she said.

Cecilia Bailey, a registered Republican and graduate student, however, said although the U.S. image can't be ignored, she doesn't think it will be a decisive factor in the vote.

"Our domestic issues such as national security, education [and] abortion weigh much more heavily than concerns over our image abroad," Bailey said. "As a North Carolina native, I think a Kerry-Edwards victory may improve our image abroad, but only slightly and certainly not significantly enough to sacrifice key domestic issues."

Many Democratic campaign speeches have emphasized the importance of healing the suffering relations with allies.

At the Democratic National Convention, vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards promised that a Kerry administration would ensure that "this great shining light, this beacon of freedom, democracy and human rights that the world looks up to, is always lit."

In her convention speech, Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, characterized the Peace Corps as a "face that symbolizes this country: young, curious, brimming with idealism and hope, and a real, honest compassion. Those young people convey an idea of America that is all about heart, creativity, generosity and confidence, a practical, can-do sense and a big, big smile."

The Peace Corps was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to promote world peace and friendship.

Josh Robbins, a student in the School of International Service and a former Peace Corps volunteer, said its role is still vital.

"I personally believe that to be an effective tool to change the image of the U.S. abroad, one would have to drastically increase the size and scope of the Peace Corps, and give it equal footing with international security and economic interests," Robbins said.

"For Democratic candidates to evoke the Peace Corps of the '60s in their speeches, without outlining how that organization might contribute more broadly, and play a more dynamic and central role in US foreign policy, strikes me as superficial."

The Bush-Cheney campaign has not talked much about the global perception of the U.S. and its implications. However, students await the Republican National Convention to see what issues will be addressed. At least for some students, America's image abroad should be high on the agenda.

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