Matt Yglesias on what Obama should do now:
And Obama will have more time to spend on foreign policy. How are we going to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan? How can we continue the dialogue with China over trade and currency issues? How can we strengthen ties with India, Brazil, Indonesia and other large developing democracies? How can he work with Dilma Roussef to check the spread of authoritarian populism in the region?
I have little positive to say about Hugo Chávez, but this makes no sense, for a variety of reasons. First, there's been a coup and a half in the past eighteen months in Latin America, something that, if it spreads, poses a greater threat to the region than Chávez. In any event, authoritarian populism, such as it is, is a product of ongoing poverty and inequality along with the ham-handed implementation of free-market economic policies in the 1990s. Alleviating poverty and keeping a closer eye on the losers when implementing economic reform will do infinitely more to limit authoritarian populism than securing the participation of Brazil's president in an anti-Chávez scheme. (That may have been what Yglesias was referring to, but then why do we need Rousseff to do more to address poverty ourselves?)
Second, we tried this already. Rumsfeld went to Brazil in 2005 to try to convince Lula to reign Chávez in, and the gambit failed miserably. Even if Brazil had agreed with Rumsfeld, I don't imagine it would have, in turn, been successful in lowering the volume from Chávez a great deal. In any event, the move worked out quite well for Lula. He stayed on good terms with Chávez, had a less than chummy but not disastrous relationship with the Bush administration, and wound up a superstar. Had he aligned himself with Bush and stuck himself in the middle of an unwinnable ideological brawl, it's quite possible that his current level of prestige wouldn't exist. Rousseff was a huge part of Lula's administration, and presumably she saw how that worked out for her predecessor and mentor. Rousseff may wind up on Chávez's enemies list, but I can't imagine it will be because we asked to her to be meaner to him.
You hear people talk about putting Chávez in his box from time to time, and what Brazil can do or what we can do to see that happen. But Chávez already is in his box. It's called Venezuela. High oil prices or not, there is a limit to what he can do from his perch at the top of the continent. We do not need to spend large amounts of energy seeking to corner him, which perversely increases sympathy for him and prolongs his existence on the world stage.
Lastly, if we want a change of position from Brazil, it's not on Chávez, Correa, et al. It's on Iran. The stakes are much higher, the chances of a moderated Brazilian position much better.