Johanna Mendelson Forman – The Hill, 7/15/2014
Two routs of Brazil in one week, first with the German soccer team and then with the Dutch, can only be viewed as a metaphor for the limits of soft power. The final blow this past Saturday was the Netherlands team trouncing Brazil in a poorly defended game, and a palpable sense of retreat as Brazilians watched their home team crash and burn.
Brazil’s culture cherishes its long romance with futbol. And well it should. It is a nation that produced Pele, Ronaldinho and Neymar. Its Labor government bet the ranch on being host to the World Cup, a jewel in the crown of an emerging power. Unfortunately, the fairy-tale ending of living happily ever was overshadowed by large public protests in 2013 in a nation that wanted more for its children than gleaming soccer palaces and airports. Brazil’s desperate need for more schools, better educational opportunities and increased resources for health have become the grievance of a rising middle class that emerged as a result of policies that made poverty alleviation a central tenant of the Labor platform. First, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and then with President Dilma Rousseff, the country moved 33 million citizens out of poverty, and brought 47 million into the middle class with expectations that exceeded the government’s capacity to respond. And that’s where the trouble started.
Projecting power through persuasion with a global brand like soccer is fine and important. But rising to the level of serious leadership will require more than a World Cup victory or playing host to the 2016 Olympics. With this sporting event over, it is time for Brazil to rethink its mission in a complex international system that welcomes nations with peaceful inclinations, but equally values leadership. And this is where the problem lies for Brazil. For example, in 2008 it created a distinct South American forum, UNASUR, the Union of South American States, with the goal of distancing itself from the politics of the Organization of American States (OAS), which has been dominated by the United States. While UNASUR has voiced its intent to become an institution that can provide a genuine multilateral forum to resolve regional problems, to date its record is slim in spite of rhetoric to the contrary.