Libyans Now Like America Slightly More Than Do Canadians

A year after NATO intervention, Gallup finds a Libyan approval rating for U.S. leadership far above Mideast and even European norms.

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A Libyan rebel holds out the U.S. flag flying from his truck. (Reuters)

About a year and half after the U.S. and several European militaries began bombing Libya as part of the ultimately successfully campaign to aid rebels there and topple Muammar Qaddafi, who was killed last October, Gallup has polled Libyan opinions and found something very unusual: some people in the Middle East seem to actually like America. 

According to the just-out poll, 54 percent of Libyans say they hold a favorable view of U.S. leadership. That's really high for the Middle East. How high? The poll suggests that Libyan views are about on par with Australians (who, at 56 percent, have a slightly more favorable view), Israelis (55 percent), and Canadians (at 53 percent, slightly less). That's good company.

The U.S. leadership appears to be more popular in Libya than in many of the European nations it joined with against Qaddafi. The U.S. approval rating is lower in France and Spain (42 percent in both), Sweden (35 percent), and slightly lower in Italy (50 percent). But it is higher in the U.K. and the Netherlands, at 67 and 65 percent respectfully. Gallup doesn't have data for Norway, which also participated. The European average, it says, is 42 percent.

It's hard to know whether Libyans' newfound appreciation for the U.S. will last, or if that approval rating will return to its pre-revolutionary 30 percent. Many complicated factors can effect public opinion, but its notable that one of the downward pressures on U.S. favorability common to the Middle East -- living under an oppressive dictator who either vilifies or is perceived as a puppet of the United States -- is now gone from Libya. But another, perceived U.S. sponsorship of Israel and thus its unpopular policies toward Palestinians, remains. 

One promising datapoint is that, for some Libyans, the revolutionary embrace of America has lasted at least a year so far. Last August, the Los Angeles Times reported that young Libyans, inspired by the U.S. role in the intervention and its food aid, were sporting American flags and professing their love of American ideals as they saw them. "That's why I fly the flag -- to support American-style freedoms that we all want here," explained a 57-year-old Libyan man named Omar al-Keish.

The lesson here is probably a simple one: people like it when a foreign power helps them oust a despised dictator. But that's also an important lesson not to over-learn; Iraqis report a 29 percent approval rating for U.S. leadership and 56 percent disapproval, one of the world's highest.
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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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