Not to add fuel to the anti-NPR fire started by the right—and I realize that criticizing its Latin American reporter, Juan Forero, is akin to picking low-hanging fruit—but this story on Obama’s trip to Brazil is typical of the vapid commentary in this country on foreign relations in general and Latin America in particular. First off, I thought the headline, “Brazilians Welcome Obama as Their Own,” was a description of what happened after Obama arrived in Brazil—massive, swooning crowds, etc.—but it was published before Air Force One even touched down, making it more a reflection of wish fulfillment than reality, or one of those premature Pravda headlines written before the event actually took place.
Then there is the reduction of foreign policy to self-affirmation. “He’s one of us,” like Lula, a trade unionist. This seems to be Forero’s main observation, ignoring the fact that Lula’s ongoing popularity might have been because he presided over, within limits, a significant redistribution of wealth in the form of welfare, education and healthcare to the poor, and presided over a significant realignment of foreign policy. And that his appeal is based on a misplaced identification by the masses? I remember some particularly inane comment made in one of the attempts to explain Chávez’s ongoing popularity with the poor, made either in the pages of the The Atlantic or Foreign Policy, I can’t keep track, going something like this: “Chávez projects his vulnerabilities, and the people love him because they identify with them.” How is this any different?