Anyone that travels the global marketplace knows that negative views of the US are widely held. What often surprises people is the nations in which the population tends to view the US unfavorably. A massive global poll of 45,000 released by the Pew Research Center illustrates that the US is viewed negatively by significant portions of countries most Americans consider â€œfriendlyâ€ – Germany (66%), Spain (60%), France (60%), Argentina (72%), Britain (42%). In emerging markets considered â€œmust winâ€ by US business, the numbers are troubling â€“ Brazil (51%), Russia (48%), India (28%), China (57%). Other research has shown that this negativity can translate into an effort to avoid US brands, particularly among consumers under 40.
I have experienced this firsthand during my frequent trips around the globe. In my experience, the most troubling sentiment is concentrated in Europe. Before 9/11, when the topic of America came up, and it always did, the conversation centered around the “minor” differences in US versus European life, political structures, business and cultural norms. Discussions ensued over the approach America has taken versus Europe (e.g. freeways versus rail transportation), in the last half-century or so, and while I cannot remember a time where we all agreed about every topic, the conversation was cordial, lively, and left all parties pondering their positions.
Shortly after 9/11, there was unanimous sympathy for the US. Any differences seemed insignificant. I even had conversations with many of my European friends where they openly supported the United States’ right to defend herself and hoped we would. They clearly understood the role of the United States as the lone superpower and were concerned that if we did not confront and destroy the terrorists, who would.
Post 9/11, the tone has changed dramatically. I have talked to very few who support our current approach to the war on terror. Regardless of what we think of the approach, it is almost universally unpopular. The minor differences now seem like impossible chasms. For those friends and colleagues that will still engage in a discussion on politics with me, the tone is acrimonious. This has a chilling effect on business.
Americans need to be persuaded that more interaction and better engagement with the rest of the globe is important and worthwhile. It is also vital to having large and important chunks of the global population engage with us.
I understand and accept that we must sometimes take an unpopular path. We must protect our citizens and our interests around the world. While there are vastly different viewpoints on how best to achieve this, the goal is the same. By recognizing this unanimity of purpose, eventually I hope the divisions will be mended. Although the current US policies create is a chilling effect on our relationship with our friends and on business, I believe it is through our business relationships that we will ultimately rebuild our relationship with the rest of the world.