The Brazil-US Crisis: How Important is It?

By Robbin Laird

In a recent Washington Post treatment of the cancellation of the visit to Washington of the Brazilian President, the event was treated as a non-event.

Indeed, it was seen almost as the action of an hysterical, desperate woman unable to get her way.

But hidden in the lack of analysis is a systemic bias in the treatment of the US global position – the US remains the epicenter of the universe within which others aspire to enter.

What is lost is the sense of reality – the US can achieve real global power in the next decade of the 21st century only by working with key regional influentials and shaping realistic policies, which allow the US to protect or advance its interests.

In a piece we published recently, an Azerbaijani analyst captured the reality of the 21st century situation for the United States:

Who can guarantee that the unintended consequences of less engagement will not pose perilous challenges ultimately to U.S. security in an increasingly interdependent and globalizing world?

Besides the US nonfeasance of its obligations, the world clearly sees that there is an anxiety and confusion of the politicians in Washington facing shifts in geopolitics and increased political polarization over foreign policy.

All these factors have made it more difficult to forecast not only short term but also mid and long term U.S. strategy.

Although the world has been discussing a post-American world for some time, the United States has yet to adopt a well-defined grand strategy to guide its engagement strategy in the face of decline.

Actually, all past empires find it difficult to design sophisticated strategies to stop their decline, win back their one-time might, and more importantly make the process of decline less harmful for themselves and others.

Designing a strategy to rise is easy; designing one for reversing a decline is not.

Complacency about the Brazilian reaction to Obama Administration policies is a symptom of the broader problem of not understanding in any systemic way the challenges facing Washington.

The United States was in a position to win a significant defense contract with Brazil, and the F-18 position now in that competition is worse than zero.

The spying of NSA against the President of Brazil is one thing, but the notion that slugs in the bureaucracy can read such intelligence is appalling.

When I was in government service, there were levels of access and protection of information.

These sensible safeguards and policies seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Under the guise of fighting terrorists, we seem to be making our friends targets of information warfare.  By so doing, you create the reality.

As Kenneth Maxwell warned in an earlier piece:

It is not so much a question of ”gentlemen not opening each other’s mail” as US Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson, said when closing down the State Department’s cryptanalysis office in 1929.

The President of Brazil is reconsidering her visit to the United States. Having her correspondence enter the US intelligence data base and made widely available in the intelligence system seems to have bothered her. What impact on allies is in play as a result?

It is the sheer stupidity of the scale of the snooping, and the damage it can cause when revealed, which it inevitably will be.

Why did a low level military intelligence operative in Iraq, Bradley Manning, need to have access to the full range of US intelligence intercepts and videos in the first place?

Why did Edward Snowden, an intelligence contractor, working for a private company, need to know what Dilma Rousseff was saying to Professor Marco Aurelio Garcia, her foreign policy adviser, in the Planalto Palace, or who Pena Neto was planning to appoint to be a minister in his new government in Mexico?

It is true that the US has snooped for years on Brazilian political figures.

And of course it is easier to snoop when you have the ability to snoop.

But it is surely the job of American diplomats in Brazil to find out these things the old fashioned and legal way.

It is the sheer scale of the snooping of the United States intelligence agencies ”state within the state” that is out of control:

Where no limits are recognized; No common sense applied: No awareness of consequences

Does anyone really believe that NSA interventions in Brazil have augmented U.S. national security?

The U.S. has lost a major defense contract; and has damaged an important military relationship in a continent that is turning against the United States and forces are augmenting their capabilities to wage asymmetric operations against US interests.

China is augmenting its influence in Latin America in important ways, such as its expanded role in the Argentinian aerospace industry.

China certainly as a fellow member of the BRIC club will build upon the NSA crisis to augment its own position on the need to control the Internet and penetration of U.S. media within BRIC societies.

And the Brazilian government will look to ways to shape limits of various web inroads into Brazil, even though the flat world folks always believe this impossible; it is not.

And of course, Brazil is a major energy player which if the United States was interested in shaping a real energy policy, the U.S. would be courting.

But that would mean being interested in offshore drilling and other such horrors!

Of course, rather than pursuing an adult energy strategy, the U.S. is spending its time spying on the key Brazilian energy company.

The National Security Agency spied on Petrobras, Brazil’s giant national oil company, according to a report here on Sunday night by the Globo television network, in the latest revelation of the agency’s surveillance methods that have raised tension between Brazil and the United States.

Still, details were sparse in the report as to precisely what information the N.S.A. may have obtained from spying on Petrobras, raising questions about what objectives the agency could have in targeting the company, which is controlled by Brazil’s government and ranks among the world’s largest oil producers.

But back at The Washington Post none of this is really serious for U.S. national security and foreign policies.

Here we learn that the scandal “spoils the dinner” of the Brazilian President at the White House.  We learn that the only losers here are Brazilians.

But Brazil’s decision will in the short term be damaging for the country, which has a struggling economy that is seeking American investment and a greater opening to Brazilian products.

Apparently, when you live in the US-centric world, the reality of 21st century global politics seems far away.

And doing the analysis and shaping the tough policies for global engagement are simply too tough to do as well.  It is better to play golf.

But as always Obama “understands,” but the problem is he really does not do anything based on that “understanding.”

Obama “understands and regrets the concerns” the NSA disclosures have caused in Brazil and stressed that he is committed to resolving the dispute with Rousseff.

It is not a dispute with the President of Brazil; its about reshaping a national security state out of control and not serving American strategic interests in a regionally diversified and conflictual world.

Hard to do; but understanding is not the point.  Doing is.

For a mid-1990s UNESCO conference and publication which debated the impact of information society and national and global security and anticipated in part the current issues see the following publication:

What Kind of Security?

What Kind of Security


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One response to “The Brazil-US Crisis: How Important is It?”

  1. Robert Dooley says:

    The headlines/articles in the US woefully failed to capture the reaction in Brazil over the discovery of the NSA activity. The groundswell of anti-American sentiment and suspicion has made it rough going for those American companies doing business there…and for those that want to.
    It appears there is no overt movement on the part of the current Administration to try to repair any of the damage wrought. While we might share a contintent with Brazil, South America’s largest country/economy/future energy supplier, we are worlds apart…and not getting any closer.

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