Diplomacy: With Iran growing more dangerous, it's bad enough to see Brazil cozy up to the mullahs. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made things worse with tactless remarks. Is there an ambassador in the house?
Brazil's on the rise economically and militarily. It also harbors a not-unreasonable desire to exert influence globally. But it has a bit of an inferiority complex and an exaggerated desire to differentiate itself from the U.S.
Not a big problem, but one that should be taken seriously because — like India and China — Brazil is important. And its dealings with Iran could undermine global efforts to check Tehran.
"I defend for Iran the same rights with respect to nuclear energy that I do for Brazil," President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva said last month, embracing Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a visit.
Lula didn't have the same warm welcome for the U.S. this week when America's top Latin America policymaker, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, came calling.
Against custom, Lula wouldn't even see him, sending out a low-level diplomat to greet Valenzuela on "minimalized" terms.
Brazil's snub was triggered by a clumsy statement from Clinton, who warned "that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should look at what the consequences might well be for them."
Brazil took that as a threat. Said Lula's international adviser Marco Aurelio Garcia: "It was not a message for Brazil. If it was, it was the wrong message."
Valenzuela managed to patch things up, saying Clinton's statement was "misunderstood" and "Brazil has a right to choose its friends." Still, it was embarrassing, signaling that the U.S. bends backward for Brazil.
Clinton wasn't wrong, but she needs pros to keep all the bases covered. The way this backfired in Brazil lessened American influence at a time when a united front is needed against Iran. A professional diplomat wouldn't have made that rookie mistake.
Unfortunately, we don't have one — and haven't for months. A top career diplomat, Thomas Shannon, until recently in Valenzuela's post at State, has been nominated ambassador, but the nomination has been on hold in the Senate since July.
Sen. George LeMieux of Florida has placed the hold. He's linked to the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which gives cash mostly to Democrats while its leaders claim Shannon was soft on Castro and ended cell phone distribution to dissidents.
We take a back seat to no one in detesting Castro's regime, but the weekend arrest of a State Department contractor for delivering cell phones in Havana disproves claims that Shannon is soft.
The whole thing annoys Brazilians and hurts us. It suggests that the U.S. doesn't give weight to Brazil in world affairs and deprives Brazilians of the heavyweight they eagerly anticipate: Shannon.
Frankly, we don't need this problem. The Senate goes into recess this week and Shannon has cooperated with the Senate. LeMieux should lift his hold and put U.S.-Brazil relations on a professional course. If it's not done, Brazil will be an obstacle — and a dangerous one — in our dealing with the growing threat from Iran.