Smart Diplomacy
Obama Tries to Paper Over Brazil Tensions

President Obama hosted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at the White House yesterday, in a summit where everything from free trade to the Iran negotiations were discussed. The Wall Street Journal reports on the rocky background to the meeting:

The meeting between the U.S. and Brazilian presidents, however, was largely an opportunity for them to showcase a relationship on the mend. In 2013, a spying scandal derailed plans for a state visit, as Ms. Rousseff canceled a trip to Washington amid revelations that the National Security Agency had intercepted communications from the president and other Brazilian officials.

The two leaders met in Panama in April on the sidelines of a summit of leaders in the Americas. Tuesday’s meeting was a step down from the more ceremonial state visit Ms. Rousseff canceled in 2013. But White House officials sought to play down any lingering discord. Mr. Obama described his relationship with his Brazilian counterpart as excellent. He said the U.S. regards Brazil “not as a regional power, but as a global power.”

U.S.-Brazilian relations under President Obama have been strained. Early on, Obama tried and failed to use the power of his global stardom to snatch the 2016 Olympics from Rio and bring them to Chicago, while 2013 saw the Snowden-precipitated spying scandal. And the President’s trade negotiations haven’t been friendly to Brazil, either—the U.S. turned to regional negotiations instead of the global WTO as a way to minimize the power of countries like Brazil and India to impose their agenda on international trade. Obama and his administration have, often without really understanding what they were doing, thrown obstacles in Brazil’s path.

Rousseff needs some headlines and distractions for the moment as her country’s economy staggers and a recent string of corruption scandals leaves Brazilians asking why she failed to notice rampant corruption all around her. And it might not hurt for international investors to see that she is welcome in the White House. So she had good reasons to stop by for a chat.

But just as President Bush failed, despite a lot of happy talk, to put U.S.-Mexico relations in a new place, so President Obama has fallen short on Brazil. This is a very old pattern in hemispheric diplomacy and the way for the U.S. to improve relations with the country isn’t to make empty comments at a substance-free summits. Rather, the U.S. should integrate an awareness of Brazil’s concerns and priorities into the policymaking process.

Perhaps the next president will take more advantage of the significant opportunities that exist to enhance American prosperity and security (and reduce illegal immigration) through smarter and more focused regional diplomacy. Good for us, good for the neighborhood.

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