Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Is Brazil Nuts or Does it Understand America's Self-Proclaimed Weakness

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By Barry Rubin

Brazil is an excellent case study on the failure of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. President Lula Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is what might be called a near-Communist and an anti-American. Yet he has been flattered and treated as a friend by the U.S. government even as he was preparing to stab the United States in the back by cutting his own deal with Iran.

In his new national security doctrine paper, Obama has explained a key reason for his own behavior: the belief that America is weak and needs “responsible powers” like Turkey (that’s a story in itself), Russia, and China to prop up the rapidly collapsing former superpower. In the words of Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes: “We are deeply committed to broadening the circle of responsible actors.”

And so while the New York Times reports that Lula “has challenged the United States on everything from trade and climate change to last year’s coup in Honduras to Washington’s longstanding embargo against Cuba," Obama unstintingly praised the anti-American leader Obama called himself "a great admirer of the progressive, forward-looking leadership that President Lula has shown."

That "responsible actor" that Obama admires is also doing a lot of deals with North Korea.

Many people in Brazil itself, who think that the United States might still be a strong country capable of protecting its interests and even retaliating against those who trample on them, have criticized Lula, fearful that Uncle Sam might be mean right back at Brazil for the disrespect it has shown.

But Lula, like a variety of other foreign leaders, thinks he knows better, that one can taunt the United States at will and suffer no consequences. This is what Obama has wrought.

I’m writing this because of something Lula just said in an interview with a Brazilian newspaper. Here’s the key quote:

What the Americans were not winning for 31 years we have achieved in 18 hours of conversation. Neither Obama nor Bush's son, nor Bush, nor Reagan, Everybody was talking evil of Iran, but had never sat down to talk. I went. The Americans broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran after the Islamic revolution of 1979.

This is especially interesting because Lula—like Putin, Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, and others—show that they now think they are much stronger and more capable than their American counterparts.

They aren’t saying: What a great guy that Obama is! But instead: He and his predecessors are incompetent. I’m the one who can fill the vacuum created by a weak America and get things done.

Of course, Lula only achieved a potentially profitable deal for Brazil in exchange for purveying Iran’s propaganda trick to get out of sanctions. And he’s dead wrong about the United States never talking with Iran.

What fascinates me also as a historian, who covered the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis, is how Lula makes it sound like the United States was the aggressor against Iran, cutting off relations for no reason. Of course the Iranian regime seized dozens of Americans and held them hostage for more than 15 months. But America must always be in the wrong for people like Lula.
It just goes to show that if the United States doesn’t defend its own reputation and interests, make its foes worry and its friends feel secure, it can expect no quarter from enemies or those who decide that being a rival is going to be more profitable than being an ally.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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