U.S. Watches From Sidelines as Global Leaders Gather in Brazil

U.S. Watches From Sidelines as Global Leaders Gather in Brazil
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States, Natal, Brazil, June 16, 2014 (AP photo by Julio Cortez).

The United States missed out on a rare geopolitical opportunity this past week. Vice President Joe Biden, who has emerged in Barack Obama’s second term as more of an alter ego for the president on both the domestic and international stages, should have taken a short trip to Brazil for the World Cup final. Sure, the U.S. team had already been eliminated, but as the fabled "reassurer" who travels to different parts of the globe to shore up American commitments, Biden still had a plausible excuse to drop in at the close of the tournament: to congratulate Brazil on a job well done and tout the security cooperation between Brasilia and Washington that helped to ensure that the global football extravaganza went off without a hitch. Given the very real security concerns prior to the start of the tournament, the fact that there were no problems bodes well for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and Biden could have cited this as a model for getting other parts of the Brazilian-American relationship back on track.

Having Biden in Brazil paying public tribute to President Dilma Rousseff's government could have gone a long way to patching up a once-promising relationship that now finds itself on the rocks, especially after revelations about U.S. intelligence collection directed against her government led to the postponement of Rousseff’s state visit to Washington last year and has negatively impacted other areas of economic cooperation.

Biden could also have had useful meetings with a few other key world leaders who made it to Brazil for the close of the World Cup, including Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor. In Biden’s absence, Merkel likely bonded with Rousseff over shared anger at U.S. interception of calls and other spying activities. In fact, the disclosure of new American intelligence activities in Germany has left many pro-American German politicians aghast. Why was Washington so willing to risk a critical trans-Atlantic relationship for what ended up being a rather paltry intelligence gain? Merkel needs to be able to vent publicly, and a chance to berate Biden both in private and even a bit in front of the cameras might have given her the needed maneuvering room she needs to head off growing pressure from segments of both Germany's left and right that are pushing for Berlin to distance itself from Washington.

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