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One of the simplest and best questions that an editor asked me this week was why would Brazil want to get involved in the Middle East. I tried to answer it in this Los Angeles Times piece that is due to appear in Saturday’s paper.
It is still too early to say how things will play out in Iran. But even if the Brazilian accord does turn out to have been a false dawn, the Tehran agreement shows that Brazil can play a role in international affairs. It provides ammunition to those who think it should be given more of a hands on position in world diplomacy.
The answer to the question posed by my editor was best answered by experienced former diplomat Rubens Ricupero.
“Brazil wants to be recognized and it wants more power and that reflects the growing power of the country,” Ricupero told me. “It showed it is capable of diplomatic initiative. It was impressive. Le Monde said it was a historic day because the southern nations showed they can be autonomous.
He added: “It is a show of the polycentrism that Obama has talked about. That today you have actor who does not to be from the great powers, but from the intermediate powers, but who are nevertheless capable of taking initiatives on their own that were once reserved for the five big powers of the Security Council. You should see this initiative through that prism.”
Lula believes the United States is needlessly confrontational – he once asked why Obama didn’t just pick up the phone and talk to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – and he saw his deal as a victory for growing nations like his own who are tired of being told what to do. In one sense, Brazil looked at Iran and saw Brazil, as I touch on this Time story from last November.
More importantly, though, Brazil, with a large and stable economy, a host of vital commodities, and a global presence that is growing almost daily, is no longer happy to be known for its singers and soccer players – even as it gears up to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. It wants respect and is campaigning hard for a new world order and a leading role in it.
The fact that the US moved quickly to neuter the accord Brazil brokered does not alter the fact that Brazil is more and more important. The US will have to pay it more attention in the future. And it is stupid if it doesn’t. The more people involved in resolving problems, as analyst Oliver Stuenkel points out here, the more likely it is one of them will find a solution.
The Wall Street Journal has a piece today on the United States’ waning influence in Latin America. There’s nothing much new in it but there was one particularly interesting quote from Moisés Naím, the editor of Foreign Affairs magazine.
Talking of Lula’s meeting with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and of Brazil’s role in Honduras, Naím said: “The world was hoping that it would become a responsible global player and stakeholder, but instead Brazil is behaving like an immature developing country with a chip on its shoulder.”
Brazil might have a chip on its shoulder (see my previous post about how Brazilians are thin-skinned). But it cannot be blamed for developing its own foreign policy. What’s more, if the US was smart, it’d be working behind the scenes with Brazil to help engage the Irans and Venezuelas of the world.
As one academic told me last week, “Brazil is perhaps the least disliked nation in the world.” Because of football, samba, and images of sun-kissed beaches and beautiful women, everyone loves Brazil. Brazil can use that influence.
The question that Naím should be asking is, What is Lula saying to the likes of Ahmadinejad and Chavez behind closed doors? And what is Obama telling Lula when they talk on the phone?
As the US gets weaker, it is having more and more trouble making smaller countries fall into line. As Brazil gets stronger, the US should be more diligent in courting it as a credible and helpful ally.
I just wrote a piece here for Time magazine on Ahmadinejad’s visit to Brazil but I confess it was a struggle finding something original to say about the trip. Neither Ahmadinejad nor Lula said anything new and it was more about photo ops for the Iranian and Lula projecting himself as a leader respected the world over.
But there was one particularly interesting point, raised by Oxford University’s Brazil expert Dr Timothy Power. US scolds should think twice before berating others about who they meet, Power said.
The US is pally with Saudi Arabia, China, and Pakistan, to name but a few, all of whom have their own less than stellar records on democracy and human rights. Not to mention Afghanistan, where the US is backing one of the most corrupt leaders in the world.
And as Power pointed our, when Obama was asked in the primaries if he would sit down with the leaders of rogue states without any preconditions, he said he would. Lula is doing exactly that.
Engagement might not always work. But it can’t do much harm.