America: The View from Abroad

How do you do business in parts of Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East where anti-Americanism is rising? How do you do business abroad when people like America's values but not America's leadership or leaders? According to the latest survey of global attitudes by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the quick military campaign in Iraq and the revelations of torture and murder by Saddam Hussein have eased the pressure on the U.S.'s image overseas a bit. But in most of the 20 countries surveyed from Apr. 28-May 15, people hold America in much lower esteem than they did a year ago. The chasm between the U.S. and Old Europe has widened. The Muslim world is much angrier at the U.S. after Iraq. Support for the war against terrorism has eroded. And in both the U.S. and overseas, confidence in the U.N. and NATO is way down.

For the most part, positions have hardened, not changed, since the war's end. Majorities in many countries believe that unilateral military preemption against nations that have not attacked one's country is not justified. And they see the U.S. as not showing much regard for their interests when it makes international policy decisions. This is true in Spain (74%), South Korea (78%), Canada (70%), Russia (71%), Italy (60%), and other countries. Clearly, many people overseas don't like America's foreign policy. That's the bad news.

The good news is that most people embrace American values and ideals as their own. They like representative democracy (even in the Middle East), want free-market capitalism, and enjoy American technology, music, and television shows. They even think globalization is good: Multinational corporations are seen more favorably than anti-globalization protesters are.

This research must be treated with caution. The Pew survey didn't include many countries, such as Poland, that backed the U.S. on Iraq, or Mexico, which didn't. China, Japan, and India were not included, either. And many studies have shown that attitudinal research doesn't always predict actual behavior. Consumer surveys don't necessarily tell economists or policymakers what or how much consumers will buy. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't.

So CEOs don't know if rising anti-Americanism will translate into products not bought, mergers not completed, or investments not made. What's clear is that anti-Americanism is now the norm in much of Continental Europe and the Middle East. That could turn around if the U.S. brokers an Israeli-Palestinian pact. But until then, doing business globally may get more complicated, and difficult, for some time.

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