In the last decade, Brazil has recast itself as a global brand and a global power. It is home to the world's fifth-largest land mass and eighth-largest economy and is one of the top global producers of stuff everyone else needs: from animals, vegetables, and minerals to water, energy, and airplanes. The new conventional wisdom suggests that Brazil is now poised to make its name on the global stage and balance the other power in its neck of the woods, the United States. Brazil's ascent coincides with the relative decline of U.S. influence in Latin America and the rise of new centers of power in Asia. This dynamic reinforces Brazil's central foreign policy message: with both place and purpose for a new global player on the world stage, Brazil can be the Mac to the United States' PC -- with an ethos and an international agenda to match.
Brazil's aspirations are fueled by its impressive social and economic gains and its diplomatic accomplishments, as well as the ambition, vision, and personal narratives of its two recent presidents, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula). However, Brazil's attempts to exert its influence on a wide range of pressing international issues may dilute the legitimacy of its efforts in such areas as climate change, peacekeeping, and global governance, where Brazilian participation has been most successful. This is not the first time Brazil has generated so much breathless excitement. The challenge for Brazil now is to not let an exaggerated self-image eclipse its focus on balancing the constraints faced at home with the opportunities available abroad.
The next government has the chance to spare itself the illusory quest to be a global power -- soft, hard, or otherwise -- and instead relish its well-established place at the table. A more modest, although still ambitious, strategy would allow Brazil to shape and influence global institutions, and deepening investments at home would redress its domestic liabilities: glaring underinvestment in human capital and innovation and the still near absence of the state from the lives of millions of Brazilian citizens.
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