Fast forward to October,
2004. As a close presidential election comes down to the wire, one issue dominates:
the threat of weapons of mass destruction in
Brazil. Yes, it could happen.
The president's political
guru, Karl Rove, will be desperate to find a winning issue. With U.S. soldiers
still dying and no WMD found, Iraq will be too embarrassing. The economy may
be reviving, but stalled job growth will be embarrassing, too. The gay marriage
issue threatens to tear the Republicans apart and hurt them more than it can
help. Some other issue will have to be found to divert public attention. Why
not WMD in Brazil?
Brazil gave up its nuclear
weapons program years ago. It signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)
and has permitted limited inspection of its nuclear facilities. However, Brazil's
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has criticized the NPT because
it favors countries that already have nuclear weapons. When Lula took office
last January, his minister of science and technology, Roberto Amaral, suggested
that Brazil should acquire the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. Amaral
has since said just the opposite.
But last month Brazil
announced that in a few months it will start producing enriched uranium, which
means it will be able to make nuclear weapons on relatively short notice.
And it says it won't allow international inspectors to make unannounced spot
inspections of its enrichment plant.
How do we know what those
sneaky Brazilians are up to? Next October, Bush and Rove may find it very
convenient to make that question dominate the campaign.
Or perhaps it will be
the Democratic challenger who raises the question. Whoever he is, he will
have to prove that he is tougher than the incumbent on stopping bad guys from
getting WMD. He will have to find a target to aim at, a new threat that the
Bushies are supposedly ignoring. Why not Brazil?
The Democratic contenders
who are currently doing best in the polls all hold foreign policies principles
pretty much like Bush's. They, too, divide the world up into good guys, who
are allowed to have nukes, and bad guys who are not. They disagree with Bush
on means, not ends.
Brazil's Amaral understands
that. He told the New York Times that Brazil has no need to allow spot
inspections. "All we've got are a couple of itty-bitty reactors,"
he said. And Brazil is a peaceful member of the international community. "We're
not interested in a bomb and we've never made a bomb or ordered it used in
a war, so we have the moral and ethical authority to talk about this subject."
In other words, don't
treat Brazil like the axis of evil. Brazil is a good guy, a U.S. ally. Shouldn't
different rules apply? Yes, they should, in the opinion of James Goodby, a
former arms control negotiator in the Clinton administration. "Similar
programs in Libya, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea have rightly been seen as either
direct or indirect threats to international peace and security," he explained
in the International Herald Tribune. "Unlike Brazil, they harbor
hostile intent toward the United States," and Bush is right to make them
stop. But Brazil "presents the case of an undoubtedly friendly nation."
Brazil would never use the weapons, Goodby concludes: "Brazil's nuclear
aspirations lie in the fields of economics and status."
However, Democrats can
be just as quick as Republicans to turn yesterday's friend into today's enemy.
And mainstream Democrats have just as much reason as Republicans to take aim
at Brazil. Brazil is not just a random target of political convenience. Goodby's
words "economics and status" tell the story.
Lula is an economic maverick.
He is leading a major attack on hypocritical American trade policies, which
allow the U.S. to protect its own industries while denying smaller nations
like Brazil the same privilege. He is also resisting some efforts by the IMF
and World Bank to dictate his nation's economic policies, and he is urging
leaders of other nations to do the same. He's doing it all in a smart, effective
way that has U.S. leaders worried.
Some observers suggest
that IMF and World Bank restrictions have prevented Brazil from moving ahead
on its nuclear program. By announcing that Brazil will produce enriched uranium,
Lula was declaring his independence and thumbing his nose at those globalization
agencies and at the U.S. It's no longer so clear that Brazil is undoubtedly
This is a development
that would worry a future Democratic president just as much as a second-term
George W. If Lula gets the bomb, there is no telling how it might raise his
international profile and bolster his bid to lead an independent global bloc
of developing countries. Why, he might even have to be declared a "rogue"
or an "international outlaw." Then his recent trip to Cuba, and
Brazil's links to Saddam Hussein's nuclear program in the 1980s, would suddenly
become big news. So would the fact that Brazil has the world's sixth-largest
known deposits of uranium and the largest known deposits of thorium. It would
be easy enough for the candidates next fall to agree that Brazil is our new
Enemy Number One.
No, it is not likely to
happen. But it illustrates two important points.
First, it shows clearly
how the U.S. government separates the good guys from the bad guys. If you
play economic ball with the U.S. and the developed nations, then you are a
civilized member of the community of nations. You are a nice boy. So you can
have WMD. It may be a bit more complicated than that. But not much. It works
the same way, no matter who is in the White House.
Second, the case of Brazil
shows how U.S. leaders create public fears out of their own private fears.
They are genuinely afraid that Lula might galvanize international opposition
to their vision of a globalized liberal internationalist utopia. Their vision
is terribly misguided. But their fear is terribly real.
If they decide to tell
us all to be afraid of Brazil, they won't tell us what they are afraid of.
They will try to play the same trick on us that they played during the Iraq
war. Our job is to see through the ruse. We have to know what they are really
afraid of. And we have to know why what they see as dangerLula and all
that he represents, with no nukesis really an opportunity for a better
life in Brazil and around the world.
Ira Chernus is Professor
of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he
has also been co-director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program. He
writes frequently for www.commondreams.org
and for the History News Service. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org