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Now, being a Yankee isn't dandy

As US image slips abroad, American firms may find foreign deals tougher to close.

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After 14 years of regular travel to Brazil, Andrew Odell was thunderstruck by what he found there on a trip last month. "I have never run into such a consensus view on US politics," says the contract negotiator and partner at Bryan Cave, a New York law firm. "People condemn the US [for its Middle East policy], and are frightened by the US."

In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, America's troubled world standing is beginning to color its business relationships abroad. So far, the practical impact seems minimal. Many executives, including Mr. Odell, see their foreign counterparts distinguishing politics from business - especially when a cheap dollar makes American goods and services attractive overseas.

On the other hand, perceptions count. In what many view as an era of bold political unilateralism by the United States, negotiators working cross-border deals for US firms in Latin America, Europe, and Asia now find themselves facing a precipitous shift in their homeland's image abroad. And they're struggling with whether and how to adjust to it.

"I would say it creates a backlash for everybody in an interdependent world," says Bruce Patton, deputy director of the Harvard Negotiation Project in Cambridge, Mass. "If you're a really big kid and you don't lean over backward not to be coercive, people think you're a bully.... If you get what you want just because you can, they hate you for it."

That's what appears to be happening with America's image abroad. For example, only 15 percent of Indonesians felt somewhat favorable or very favorable toward the US, down from 61 percent a year earlier. The Roper survey of 30,000 people in 30 countries also found declines in non-Muslim countries: Russia, down 25 percentage points; France, down 20 points; Italy, down 10.

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