Wednesday, June 18, 2008

McCain's Campaign Pledges to Brazil

It would seem that John McCain is looking south of the Rio Grande to drum up support.

In an interview with a Brazilian newspaper, McCain said that he would back Brazil’s entry onto the U.N. Security Council as well as an expanded G8. Aside from backing an increased international political and economic role for Brazil, McCain told the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper that he would halt subsidies for U.S. ethanol production. (A possible nod towards Brazil’s burgeoning biofuel industry).

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has yet to make a U.S. presidential endorsement though he did call a possible Barack Obama presidency “a huge step forward.”

On the latter paragraph, it doesn't take an idiot to guess who Lula, a center-left president who rose up from the metalworkers' union in SaoPaulo to become president, might end up supporting (if he does end up endorsing anybody, and he certainly doesn't have to. But if he does, I wouldn't place my bets on the Arizonan).

As for the former issues, I suspect these are minimal priorities. Certainly, McCain has very little to lose in supporting Brazil's entrance into the G8 and the U.N. Security Council. As for claiming he'll halting subsidies for U.S. oil production, that's rather silly and typical for a number of reasons. First, in spite of his announcement for new energy sources, McCain is quite simply not terribly serious about real energy reform; the fact that Bush openly supports a central component of McCain's energy plan speaks volumes. (And as a quick aside - please, George - throw your support behind everything McCain suggests! The Democratic party would thank you dearly.) So, despite his rhetoric on the need for alternate fuels, I just don't see him being nearly as involved with these kinds of questions as he will be with issues of "national security" and "spreading democracy."

As for cutting the subsidies, that is something that sounds really nice to Brazilian farmers and ethanol production, but McCain making this kind of promise means virtually nothing; Congress is usually the governmental branch that determines the existence of those kinds of subsidies. McCain can try to exclude them out of his budget all he wants, but earmarks and congressional set-asides will ultimately rule the day on that issue, so it's one of those "promises" that McCain can safely make, nobody will remember, and even if they do, he can point to Congress as the culprit, so he really has nothing to lose in making comments on ethanol subsidies to the Brazilian media in June.

Overall, things like this will be things his supporters can point to as a sign of "change," but they most likely signify virtually nothing, either because McCain simply isn't serious about energy reform or because Congress, and not the president, will ultimately decide on these issues. McCain's comments are simply the kinds of claims politicians (of all parties) can make on the campaign trail without ever really having to worry about those pledges coming back to haunt them.

...UPDATE: Boz:
With both candidates vying to be pro-Brazil, it's another clear sign that Lula has greatly improved Brazil's international standing over the course of his two terms.
That's exactly right. I've said repeatedly, while Lula has his detractors and is not perfect, the turnaround he's supervised in the Brazilian economy and Brazil's global standing is unprecedented in Brazilian presidential politics. The fact that Obama and McCain are giving Brazil so much more attention not just as an ally, but as an equal partner for the future (something the United States almost never does with Latin American countries), testifies to that fact.