Brazil Drops Out
Published on: June 21, 2010
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  • Peter

    “The endless nattering about ‘emerging powers’ is particularly misguided; it probably led to the brash overconfidence which is ending so badly for both Turkey and Brazil”

    Exactly so, Mr. Mead.

    After all, few Triple A starters can make it in the Bigs. The curve balls that you could hit in the minors are nothing like you’ll see in the majors.

  • Jules Mopper

    Good post. I’d be curious to hear more about how we can interact with Brazil in a mutually beneficial way. Transfer payments in exchange for ecological conservation is probably not our great collaboration.

    About the drug war: Prohibition does not work. We’ve tried it before, we’re trying it now, and both times the result is violence.

    According to Glenn Greenwald, Portugal’s legalization of drugs did not cause significantly higher levels of drug use. And considering that we use 2/3 of the world’s drugs here in America, it’s hard to see how it could go up.

    All our current policy is doing is destroying Mexico, endangering our border states, and leading us to imprison over 1.5% of our population, the highest in the world, an embarrassment.

  • Excuse me, but PM Netanyahu’s announcement of easing the Gaza blockade is a huge win for Turkey. And they really can’t lose by opposing the US in the Security Council. Having the US roll over you doesn’t hurt anyone’s standing, and it likely improves it by standing up to the current evil empire.

    And as for Brazil, Celso Amorim’s full quote is nothing-to-see-here: “We got our fingers burned by doing things that everybody said were helpful and in the end we found that some people could not take ‘yes’ for an answer,” said Mr Amorim in a clear reference to Washington.

    “If we are required [to negotiate again], maybe we can still be useful . . . But we are not going out in a proactive way again unless we are required to.” There is no mess at all for either Turkey or Brazil.

    Back to WRM”s prose. “But the light and casual way in which the world’s pundits (many of them utterly ignorant about Brazil’s long history of diplomatic disappointment) concluded from a single, ill-advised diplomatic initiative that Brazil had decisively changed its place in the world” Your strawman routine is getting old. What pundits are you talking about? Especially the utterly ignorant ones.

    “American power, for example, is not some fragile flower that will be withered by the first blast of cold air.” No one says otherwise, especially not in such flowery metaphors.

    “It rests on extremely durable geographical and cultural foundations.” What?!? On geography, you might be going deep with a Jared Diamond ultimate cause, but it seems more relevant to explain American power with the size of our economy and military. On culture, I’m really too scared to speculate what you mean.

    “American power is partly rooted in forces even older than our country; many of the factors that enabled the British to triumph in their wars against France during the 18th century bolster American power today.” CAN YOU NAME ONE FORCE OR FACTOR?!? Is that asking for too much?

    “an over-reliance on theoretical constructs ([Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, Wilsonian, Goo-Goo Genocidaires] and on and on and on) leads many analysts into crude and overdetermined” just-so stories.

    Really, what are increased sanctions from the US and EU going to accomplish? (besides empowering the Iranian regime) Neither is a major trading partner with Iran. China, Russia, Brazil, Turkey and many others will continue to trade with Iran.

  • jp

    Ignorance of history often leads to a failure to understand the persistence of certain underlying forces in the world of power politics. American power, for example, is not some fragile flower that will be withered by the first blast of cold air. It rests on extremely durable geographical and cultural foundations and the trend towards rising US power in the international system is even older than Brazil’s failure to emerge. American power is partly rooted in forces even older than our country; many of the factors that enabled the British to triumph in their wars against France during the 18th century bolster American power today.

    WRM, can you give a brief summary of the United States Real Power, the forces behind it and their roots?

  • K2K

    Brazil has no need for Iran (or Turkey), and certainly does not want to imperil Brazil’s quest for a permanent seat on the Security Council. Perhaps Brazil got burned by the US; perhaps Brazil thought they could deflect Chavez’ influence; was their some domestic politics at work (is the Brazilian-Lebanese swing vote in play? or are the Brazilian evangelical Protestants?). who knows? Certainly Lula does not want his successor to lose the election, and Iran offers zero benefit.

    Trade disputes with the U.S. are a big deal with Brazil. The U.S. needs to cultivate a durable alliance with Brazil, and really needs to stop antagonizing Brazil with unfair trade practices – cotton and sugar ethanol for starters – maybe have Petrobras take over deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico 🙂 In the end, who would you rather have in NATO – a Turkey at war with their own Kurds, Armenia and EU member Cyprus, or Brazil? (I hope Mr. Mead is reading the Turkish press which has moved on from Hamas to the war with the PKK and stirring up Azerbaijan-Armenia. Seems Erdogan overplayed his ‘Israel card’, now on to the ‘Kurd card’)

    Brazil has a natural sphere of influence: Latin America, Caribbean, and parts of Africa. The U.S. could not ask for a better ally than Brazil in the transition to a more multi-polar world.

    And yes, the US War on Drugs is destroying Mexico.

    Time for Obama, or, more likely, his successor in 2012, to focus on our own hemisphere.

  • jbay

    Professor Mead,

    While I agree with your points I do have to point out that just because it’s always been said that the world will end is not proof that it never will.

    I am curious of one specific case study, ie, the punic wars and the fall of Carthage and the rise of Rome. It is my understanding that the turning point was when Rome captured a abandoned trireme, reverse engineered it and then began out producing Carthage. This lead to Rome being able to tax Carthage and eventually over about 100 years to defeat Cartage.

    My questions are two fold. Are we not playing a similar role as Carthage and China being Rome? Is my understanding of the roles of technology and trade in the Punic wars in error?

    The similarities that I see between the two are below:
    ~That technology we don’t share China takes through hacking.
    ~Our huge borrowing is acting as a tax.
    ~The Chinese are quickly catching up w. our industrial complex while we shift our complex abroad.

    I’m curious to read your thoughts?

  • MikeC

    Thanks, Dr. Mead, for cooling off the overheated rhetoric surrounding international politics to-day. We are much obliged.

    One quibble:

    “In the medium term, the prospect that criminal gangs (with their road eased by the many weak states in the Caribbean) could link up with international terror organizations is a far more chilling thought than that Raul Castro would be greeted by cheering throngs in Quito.” – WRM

    Why on earth would they? This would invite military intervention, which would be very bad for business.

    Also, bravo to Jules Mopper above, for his statement that US drug laws have only enriched violent criminals. The Mexican drug gangs are nothing more than latter-day Al Capones.

    To Norwegian Shooter: the ‘cultural factors’ to which Dr. Mead refers include, but are not limited to, such things as the Magna Carta and the philosophies of John Locke and Adam Smith. Individual and economic freedom give citizens a stake in their societies, and thus, the impetus to fight in the defense of that society. Such factors are absent under feudalism, communism, and Shari’a.

  • jbay

    P.S. I appologize for the several typo’s.

  • WigWag

    “‘Emerging’ is one of the hypocritical weasel words that foreign policy wonks often use to paper over unpleasant or crude realities. ‘Emerging democracies’ are undemocratic countries where, we hope, existing trends may lead to greater freedom over time. ‘Emerging powers’ similarly should be understood as countries that aren’t yet ready to play a lead role on major issues but who, given time, may someday take a seat at the high table of world affairs. ‘Emerging economies’ are similarly places where, one day, it may be reasonably safe to put your retirement money.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Mead is right again, Brazil is certainly an economic power house. It’s a nation of 193 million people with a nominal GDP almost the same as the nominal GDP of New York City which has a population of 8,250,000 people.

    Brazil’s per capita GDP in 2009 ($8,220) was smaller than the per capita GDP of either Chile or Uraguay. Per capita GDP was significantly higher in Equatorial Guinea, St. Kitts, Barbados and Antigua than in Brazil.

    Before Brazil is annointed as a world leader in anything (other than soccer), wouldn’t it make sense to provide a little evidence?

  • While it is certainly true that the US should not ignore Latin America, we should also not expect the US to push Brazil to “finally arrive.” There is a bit of hubris in that statement.

  • Eli Katz

    Mead writes: “[A]n over-reliance on theoretical constructs (’liberal internationalism,’ ’structural realism,’ ‘multipolarity’ and on and on and on) leads many analysts into crude and overdetermined projections about where history is headed.”

    Indeed! IR theory is one of the most ridiculous branches of political science. This incessant need for theorists to describe how all global relations work with one parsimonious theory is absurd.

    Everybody in IR wants to be Kenneth Waltz, and IR suffers greatly as a result.

  • MikeC, anything that could be listed as a cultural or geographic factor would be shared by Canada as well. Thus, they cannot explain our power on the world stage. Also, WRM is not a Dr., and isn’t a Professor (yet) either.

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  • J Hartman

    To Norwegian Shooter:

    For one factor, I suggest you read John Brewer’s The Sinews of Power … a wonderful study on the fiscal-military state of 18th century Britain

  • J Hartman

    When I was an undergrad (about 5 years ago) I had the privilege to major in both history and political science/IR. I can’t agree more with Prof. Mead’s comments on the ignorance of history in policymaking (which is often engendered by how the policymakers are educated).

    Complexity is often antagonistic to theory, no matter what area of human conduct we are discussing. The “lessons of history” are ambiguous at best. I studied under Jon Sumida, who has written a wonderful book about Clausewitz and his views on theory and history and what lessons we really should be “learning” from history (book is titled Decoding Clausewitz). I find it useful as a guide to approach any sort of theory.

  • Walter Russel Mead shows precisely the problem with most of the American punditry: the fact that few of them are able of reading anything in English, but as good Americans they want to tell people all over the world what they should do.

    If Mead were able to read anything in Spanish he would have noted that Hugo Chavez is very unpopular in Latin America(Take the Latinobarómetro poll) and there is no…ah, ah, ah, “Bolivarian swing of the pendulum” anywhere. Chavez only manages to get very poor countries like Bolivia and Ecuador under his influence. Ahmadinejad is very unpopular in Brazil, and even if Lula wanted to do whatever that Mr. Mead thinks that he wants to do he would have to deal with the Congress, wich is extremely conservative.

    If Mr. Mead were able to read the media of the country that he is talking he would note that few people in Brazil saw his effort about the Iran as something serious. You need better sources than Wikipedia, the Financial Times and news agencies to write about Brazil.

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  • Agree with André Kenji for his comments about the usual misunderstatement of LatinAmerica by US observers and politicians, beginning in their lack of appropiate sources of information. Financial T? You´re kidding.

    Buenos Aires

  • K2K

    am looking forward to an all-Latin America World Cup semi-final (and a Brazil-Argentina final). if only that will help the Yanquis in Washington pay any more attention!

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  • RC

    The roots of American Power is simple: It is the Heir of the British Empire (read as ease of attracting capital and a legacy of leading the western world, anglo style…aka…”daddy’s lil boy”), with the boost of German technological/military advancements during the second half of the 21st century. This Power first fueled by conquering the access of resources in the Americas, and today, the World.

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