Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Carrots and Sticks

Given the way events are unfolding in Israel, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva might want to give serious consideration to holding a "lessons learned" meeting with former President Jimmy Carter and our current envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell. Both of these men clearly understand the value of the reputation of an "honest broker;" and both appreciate the difficulty of both establishing and maintaining that reputation. Lula is currently in Israel on a trip described in a BBC News report as follows:

Mr Lula described his visit to Israel as "a mission of peace" that he hoped would help his country emerge as a bigger player in foreign affairs.

Lula seems to subscribe to many of the precepts outlined by Dennis Ross (who took his own hard knocks in the Middle East) in his Statecraft book, particularly those that apply to the judicious management of both carrots and sticks. Thanks to the blinders imposed by our own media, most Americans would probably be surprised to learn that Brazil has any carrots to bring to the table. This is why we need to turn to a source like the BBC to enhance our "sense of reality," at least where global matters are concerned:

He [Lula] informed Israeli President Shimon Peres that Israel had been accepted as the first non-South American partner in the free trade group, Mercosur.

Brazil is Israel's largest trading partner in Latin America, and trade between Brazil and Iran has also grown by 40% during Mr Lula's presidency.

So how does the Foreign Minister of Israel react to a world leader who gives equal priority to both world peace and effective trade relations? Here is how the BBC reported the answer:

Israeli and Brazilian media said Avigdor Lieberman declined to attend meetings with the visiting head of state and his address to parliament.

Mr Lieberman was reportedly upset that Mr Lula refused to visit the grave of the founder of the Zionist movement.

Mr Lula also opposes sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Had anyone else (even Israeli) done this, I would be thinking about giving an early Chutzpah of the Week award; but I have come to accept that such behavior is business as usual for Lieberman, apparently with the approval of his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Apparently, now that the United States has grown out of the faith-based policy making of the Bush Administration, Israel is determined to fill in the gap, persisting in the metaphor of hauling the Ark of the Covenant into battle. Let us hope that Lula can keep a cool head in the face of such silliness and persist in his efforts.

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