April 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Bush, Lula meet at Camp David

Less than a month after his trip to Latin America, President Bush welcomed his counterpart from Brazil, Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva, to Camp David over the weekend. The main item on the agenda was trade policy, and Bush pledged to work together with Brazil toward renewal of the Doha Round trade talks, which broke down last July. Bush also expressed appreciation for Brazil's leading role in peacekeeping operations in Haiti. In response, da Silva highlighted the issue of global warming and the need to promote biofuels without causing harm to Brazil's precious Amazonian ecodiversity. See whitehouse.gov. Now the big question mark is whether Bush can put enough pressure on Congress to curtail the myriad of agricultural subsidies and other protectionist devices that make a mockery of free markets.

More generally, the blossoming friendship between Bush and da Silva constitutes one of the biggest and least recognized foreign policy accomplishments of this administration. Part of this is based on similar personalities: Both men are casual and chummy, almost disdainful of social protocol. Either would be comfortable holding a beer standing around a barbecue grill. (I hope Bush took the opportunity to feast on some of Brazil's delectable feixoada while he was visiting there last month.) But beyond back-slapping cameraderie is the long-standing convergence of strategic interests between the United States and Brazil, dating back to World War II. During the Cold War, Brazil was for the most part a large bastion of stability in an otherwise turbulent region, and it was treated favorably and respectfully by Washington. Under the Clinton administration, in contrast, the United States began a tilt toward Argentina, which has long been a rival of Brazil. It also has a poor record relative to Brazil in terms of stability, democracy, and economic progress. Brazilians felt slighted by Clinton, which probably contributed to their desire to build up Mercosur / Mercosul as a potential rival to NAFTA. But the threat of Hugo Chavez in recent years has convinced Americans and Brazilians alike that the two countries could benefit greatly by working together toward stability and economic development in the region. Kudos to Bush for recognizing this and taking action.