Last week the Obama Administration released its National Security Strategy for 2010.  The document waxed fulsome in praise of Brazil as an “emerging center of influence.”  It welcomed “Brazil’s leadership” which promises “to move beyond dated North-South divisions to pursue progress on bilateral, hemispheric, and global issues.”

Brazil’s decision, along with Turkey, to vote against new sanctions on Iran was certainly not the type of leadership the White House envisioned from Brazil.  For months Brazil has stood, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, in support of Iran’s right to “a peaceful” nuclear program. It brokered along with Turkey a partial nuclear fuel swap Brazil claimed demonstrated Iran’s readiness to cooperate on nuclear issues.

That our powerful southern neighbor could have abstained to preserve a neutral distance between Washington and Tehran chose instead to thumb its nose at the U.S., Europe and the rest and side with Iran is troubling.

Analysts in Washington are still trying to figure out what is driving Brazilian foreign policy.  Naïveté, narcissism, or a hunger for power and influence?   There is little doubt that Brazil is lending its good name to Iran’s devious diplomacy.

The Obama Administration did not help its cause on Iran by sending an ambiguous letter to Brazil’s President Lula da Silva that gave an appearance of encouraging Brazil to proceed with the May nuclear swap deal.    On the other hand a Presidential letter does not excuse democratic Brazil’s dubious affinity for Iran, its repressive Ayatollahs, and the duplicitous Admadinejad.  This misguided affection for Iran caused the well-respected editor of Foreign Policy Moises Naim to lament that Brazil was now a “political giant but a moral pygmy.”

The fallout from Brazil’s actions will ripple through the bilateral relationship and cause considerable angst in the White House and at Foggy Bottom. The Obama Administration will continue to don a smiley face when it speaks of relations with Brazil even as it draws the dagger from its back.  Said Secretary Clinton, “we disagreed with their [Brazil and Turkey] vote. But I can understand from a diplomatic perspective why they might be able to make a convincing case for how they voted today.”  Forgive and forget!

It will be prudent, however, for the American people to recall June 9 and Brazil’s vote on Iran nuclear sanctions when this “rising center of influence” presents its case to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council with the highest responsibility for protecting world peace.