When Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff canceled her October 23 White House state dinner, she created yet another foreign-policy embarrassment for the Obama administration. Rousseff’s visit, which was announced back in May, was supposed to be an opportunity for highlighting a new era of strategic cooperation between the Western Hemisphere’s two largest countries. It would have been the first state visit by a Brazilian leader since Bill Clinton hosted Fernando Henrique Cardoso in April 1995.
The bigger deal, however, is Obama’s persistent failure to make the U.S.-Brazil relationship a top priority. “No one doubts that forging a closer relationship between the United States and rising power Brazil makes good strategic sense,” writes former National Interest editor Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College. “Yet the Obama administration seemingly can never find the time to devote the energy and political capital needed to get the process underway.”
As journalist Geoff Dyer points out, Obama has established close relationships with the leaders of other rising democracies, including Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and India’s Manmohan Singh. “Yet Brazil has never been seen as such a high priority,” notes Dyer. For example: After Turkey and Brazil attempted to broker a uranium-swap agreement with Iran in 2010, “Turkey was quickly forgiven, but Brazil was in the administration’s doghouse for a couple of years.”
To be sure, Brazil deserves much of the blame for the turmoil in bilateral relations. Its foreign-policy establishment still has a pronounced anti-American streak, and the Brazilian left in particular is still deeply resentful of U.S. power and influence in the hemisphere. For that matter, Brazilians of all stripes still nurse grievances over Washington’s role in their country’s 1964 military coup. “The Americans have no idea how hard it is to be pro-American in Brazil,” a senior Brazilian official (“close to Rousseff”) recently told Reuters.
The State Department today announced a basketball exchange program with Brazil, according to a press release from the federal agency. The program is, at least in part, coordinated with the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Based on last week’s debate, both President Obama and Governor Romney believe that squeezing the Iranians economically is the best way—and perhaps the only way—to end their nuclear-weapons program without resorting to a military strike. Of course, nobody knows if sanctions will actually work. But if the United States is truly serious about crushing Iran’s economy, it must pursue a more aggressive strategy, and it must put more pressure on Iranian trading partners.
Last month in London, Mexico’s Olympic soccer team won gold by defeating its Brazilian counterpart, 2-1. The victory gave Mexico its first-ever trophy in a major international soccer tournament (apart from the 1999 Confederations Cup), and it proved that the soccer gap between Latin America’s two largest countries is shrinking, with Mexico catching up on the region’s traditional powerhouse. The Olympic final also became a metaphor for the recent performance of the Mexican and Brazilian economies.
In 2001, Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill famously coined the acronym “BRIC” to describe four of the world’s most populous countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—each of which boasted great economic potential. Since then, China has enjoyed breakneck GDP growth while making very little progress on economic or political reform, and Russia has devolved into a petro-autocracy dangerously reliant on global oil prices. As for Brazil and India, they have reaped consistent accolades for their commitment to democracy and economic stability.
As Lula da Silva’s handpicked successor, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was widely expected to embrace his policies both at home and abroad. Domestically, she has mostly fulfilled those expectations. In foreign affairs, the story is a bit more complicated.
On June 2, the convicted Italian terrorist Cesare Battisti walked out of a Brazilian prison a free man. He did so after Brazil’s supreme court upheld the decision of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to refuse to extradite Battisti to Italy. A member of the left-wing terror group Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC) during Italy’s blood-ridden “years of lead” in the 1970s, Battisti had been on the run from Italian justice for nearly thirty years, since escaping from a prison near Rome in October 1981.
The Brazilian magazine Veja is reporting that al Qaeda members have established an active presence in South America’s largest country, as have militants associated with Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups. They are apparently engaged in fundraising, recruitment, and strategic planning.
Amid the crisis in Japan and conflict in Libya, President Obama is scheduled to take a trip to South America this weekend. The President undoubtedly has a lot on his foreign policy plate, but while he's in the region the administration ought to give pay some needed attention to what's going on between Venezuela and Colombia.
Lula da Silva is an international superstar. Foreign journalists and politicians have fawned over his accomplishments and hailed his “transformation” of Brazil into an economic powerhouse. Barack Obama calls him “the most popular politician on earth.”
Sunday’s presidential election results from Brazil came as a surprise. Pre-election polling had indicated that center-left Workers’ Party candidate Dilma Rousseff, the hand-picked successor of incumbent Brazilian president Lula da Silva, would win an outright majority in the first round of voting.