One of the unavoidable realities in any U.S. administration is that the president himself can only focus on 10 or so pressing foreign policy issues at any given time. Immediate crises and pressing national security threats tend to dominate that list, which has the unfortunate effect of making the top echelons of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus reactive rather than proactive. Thus, most of the attention of the Obama administration's national security team over the past several weeks has been focused on the crisis in Syria, to the detriment of matters that may be less immediately urgent right now but that will have a much more important long-term impact on America's position in the world.
The postponement of what would have been a state visit of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to Washington next month due to fallout over revelations of U.S. spying activities—a reaction that could have been mitigated through proper and prompt attention—is a stark reminder that U.S. administrations have to be able to strike a balance between reacting to current events and laying the groundwork for the future.
No one doubts that forging a closer relationship between the United States and rising power Brazil makes good strategic sense. Yet the Obama administration seemingly can never find the time to devote the energy and political capital needed to get the process underway. Two years ago, I warned that "Washington's focus on current crisis management has prevented the slow, steady work needed to cultivate ties with rising global powers like India and Brazil, which still remain cautious about cementing any sort of formal partnership with the U.S."