With all it’s wars, invasions, government overthrows, and media demonization, it is getting hard to understand which country is supposed to be America’s number one enemy.
During the cold war its was the Soviet Union. Russia has made a comeback as the James Bond like villain to western neo-liberal dogma, but many other nations are also considered by Americans as hostile towards the exceptionalism that Obama spent eight years cultivating.
While we can’t tell you exactly what people are thinking in this moment, we do have access to about 15 years worth of polls on the subject. The data ends up painting an interesting backdrop for America’s foreign policy decisions over the same timeframe, as well as the narratives being pushed by major media outlets.
The map above is from YouGov survey between January 28 and February 1, 2017, before Trump pivoted his presidency towards a barrage of foreign policy entanglements.
As the Visual Capitalist notes, “more Americans viewed North Korea as an enemy than any other country, with the Hermit Kingdom being ranked as an ‘enemy’ by 57% of respondents. Of course, new tensions have surfaced since then, as North Korea continues to defy U.S. pressure with further missile tests under Kim Jong-Un. This probably hasn’t helped their case with American citizens.”
Most of the countries on the top of the “enemy” list are in the Middle East and North Africa.
A close-up of that region shows that Iran holds the top spot with 41% of Americans considering it to be an “enemy”. That places Iran right behind North Korea on the global top of the enemy list.
Syria follows at 32%, Iraq at 29%, and Afghanistan at 23%. All three of these countries are hated by Americans even though it was the Unites States that preemptively attacked or invaded the above three nations.
One thing is for sure: America’s biggest foe isn’t a constant. The identity of America’s arch-nemesis ebbs and flows as global events unfold, and the opinions of citizens are swayed.
The following animation shows the answer to a slightly different poll question, this time by Gallup, which was asked multiple years between 2001 and 2016. Specifically, Americans were asked (unprompted) to name the country that is their “greatest enemy”.
See how the rankings fluctuate over time, including Iraq’s precipitous drop after Saddam was ousted and the country turned out to not have WMDs.
Particularly, Iran had a good run between 2006-2012, when it was the top-ranked “enemy” in each year a poll was done.
At other times, North Korea (2005, 2016), Iraq (2001, 2005), Russia (2015), and China (2014) have all topped the list as well.