Presumably exhausted after hours of earlier testimony before both the Senate and the House, Don Rumsfeld strayed a bit off-topic late Friday afternoon in response to a question from Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.). Langevin wanted to know, sensibly, "how do we restore our credibility on human rights," in the wake of revelations of torture and abuse at U.S.-run detention facilities. Rumsfeld's answer:
America is not what's wrong with the world. And the overwhelming majority of the people in the world know that. I mean, why do people line up to get into this country, year after year? I read all this stuff -- "people hate us, people don't like us" -- the fact of the matter is, people line up to come into this country every year.
It doesn't come through on the transcript, but it was clear from Rumsfeld's tone, his body language, the expression on his face, and the look in his eye that this was one of those disturbing moments when you realize that this administration's real problem isn't that they lie too much. The problem is that they actually believe what they're saying.
The immigration point is transparently wrong. True, a significant number of people come to this country each year, some legally, some illegally. Still, the total numbers involved -- about 1.3 million per year according to anti-immigration groups that tend to inflate the numbers -- are not very large in the greater scheme of things. Total world population is nearly 6.4 billion, making an "overwhelming majority" somewhere on the order of four or five billion. In other words, about 0.02 percent of the world immigrated to the United States last year. To put that in perspective, 2.8 million people voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, without constituting an overwhelming majority of anything.
The notion that immigrants come to America out of love for our political system, meanwhile, though a comforting piece of civic mythology, fits a bit awkwardly with the facts. People move to the United States not, as Rumsfeld said, "because they respect the fact that we respect human beings," but because we are rich, and the countries they come from are poor. They come here for the same reason that Rumsfeld and I (and the president, for that matter) came to Washington, D.C. -- to get jobs. Lastly, any effort to spin immigration as an endorsement of current U.S. foreign policy must cope with the fact that immigrants and their descendents vote fairly overwhelmingly for the party that's out of power.
The Pew Research Center's survey "A Year After the Iraq War", released last March before the Abu Ghraib images made things even worse, reveals that the reason Rumsfeld reads that "people hate us, people don't like us" is that, indeed, people don't like us. The good news first: 58 percent of Britons view the United States favorably. That, however, is down from 75 percent in the summer of 2002. In France, we're at 37 percent, down from 63, and in Germany we've slid to 38 from 61. In the Muslim world, things are worse. Four countries were surveyed -- Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, and Morocco, four of the five nations in the region (along with Kuwait) with which the United States enjoys friendly relationships. The Turks don't like us; 30 percent have a favorable view, while 45 percent are "very unfavorable." But Turks like us more than Moroccans, where the split is 27 to 46. Things are worse in Pakistan, 21 to 50, and downright awful in Jordan where a shocking five percent of the population has a favorable opinion of the U.S. as opposed to 67 percent who view us very unfavorably.
In Turkey, at least, most people just dislike us -- they don't want to kill us. Only 31 percent say that suicide bombings "against Americans and Westerners in Iraq" are justified. Of course, there are 68 million people in Turkey, 31 percent of whom think suicide bombings against Americans are a good idea. That comes out to 21 million pro-attack Turks, a number that doesn't compare favorably with our 1.3 million immigrants. With the Turkish population growing at 1.13 percent a year, that's over 244,000 new people every twelve months who'd like to see our soldiers killed.
And that's the good news.
Forty-six percent of Pakistanis approve of anti-American suicide bombings (we're almost as unpopular there as Israel is; just 47 percent approve of attacks on the Jewish state) and only 36 percent disapprove. That's almost 70 million people who approve of attacks, given Pakistan's enormous population. In the two Arab countries surveyed, absolute majorities -- 74 percent in Morocco and 86 percent in Jordan -- approve of attacks. Not coincidentally, majorities in all four Muslim countries believe that Iraqis will be worse off in post-Hussein Iraq, that the United States does not truly want to promote democracy, and that the war on terrorism is insincere. If we're so insincere, what do they think the war on terror is really about? Majorities believe we want "to control Mideast oil" and "to dominate the world." Rumsfeld's "overwhelming majority of people in the world" who know that "America is not what's wrong with the world" seem hard to locate.
This was all, one must recall, before the Abu Ghraib photos surfaced, and even the Secretary of Defense had to admit that the worst is yet to come. Meanwhile, he tells us, we shouldn't worry; lots of immigrants want to come here.
The fact is that we need to worry. In a memo written last October, Rumsfeld asked if we needed "a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists." Quite clearly, we do. A world in which hundreds of millions of people despise the United States is not one in which Americans can ever be safe, no matter how strong our military or our homeland security. Not only does the Bush administration lack such a plan, they seem to have even forgotten that the problem exists.
Matthew Yglesias is a Prospect writing fellow. His column on politics and the media appears every Tuesday.