The challenges of picking the right predecessor, Brazil style

If one of the secrets to success in any job is choosing the right predecessor, then Dilma Rousseff may be starting out with one strike against her.

Her current boss and political champion Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva could well be the toughest act to follow anywhere in the world. Despite the efforts of some commentators to take him down a notch or two (much like young guns in the old American west who used to try to boost their reputations by going after the fastest gun in town), Brazil's charismatic president has done a remarkable job. Confounding -- and consigning to the trash heap of history -- old distinctions between left and right, Lula has overseen an economic boom, major social reforms and the elevation of Brazil's standing to the top ranks of nations in the world. (See the excellent story in today's Latin Business Chronicle ... rapidly becoming required reading for anyone interested in Latin America ... summarizing Brazil's recent economic accomplishments. It's pretty dazzling stuff.)

The question is: What's a girl to do? Dilma, who almost certainly will become Brazil's first woman president -- despite a recent slight slip in the polls due to a scandal that doesn't in any way implicate; her one of those curiously timed dust ups that happen to come to light in the weeks before an election -- is going to inherit a country with very high expectations. Some critics expect that absent Lula's extraordinary gifts that she will falter. But read her story and you discover an exceptionally accomplished, tough as nails, politically canny, professional manager who will come to office much better prepared and equipped than some other leaders who have taken over major powers recently.

In fact, given that a centerpiece of her tenure will be the efforts to tap the enormous oil reserves off Brazil's shores -- thus making Brazil a major petropowerhouse -- her background as former energy minister is ideal. The fact that in that capacity she chaired Petrobras, the state's oil giant that recently completed a massive financing that made it the fourth most highly capitalized company in the world, gives her much more business understanding than many political leaders ... even if her views on the national responsibilities of that company make some market purists uncomfortable.

It is in fact an interesting footnote that should Dilma win she will join Dmitry Medvedev as the second BRIC head of state to have run her national oil company. It's a fact made more resonant when seen in light of the fact that one of the leading candidates to take a top Chinese leadership role come that country's next transition is a former energy engineer. What do the BRICs know that we don't?

There is another Medvedev comparison that also arises: the question of how do you deal with a powerful predecessor who won't go away? Will Dilma be seen as a puppet of an active Lula as Medvedev was of Putin?  Or will she strain at such expectations as Medvedev has? Most who know Dilma say she is unlikely to be anyone's puppet. But she will likely want to turn regularly to Lula. That suggests that a better model for the relationship may be found not in Moscow but in Singapore where Lee Kwan Yew, the father of that state, has maintained a role as Minister Mentor.

In the United States of course, most analysts look at this through the standard U.S. global filter -- what does it mean for us? On the one hand, the answer may be less than one might think. The United States has lost influence as Brazil has shrewdly and effectively plotted an independent course. (Which is the surest way … as in dating … to really heat up American interest.) This shift has been supported by the fact that today China is both Brazil's top trading partner and leading investor.

The continuing tensions over Brazil's intervention in the Iranian nuclear dispute, and the ill-considered U.S. decision to continue to punish the Brazilians for their unsuccessful but misunderstood initiative won't help. Dilma's Brazil won't change course and indeed should not. With other pressing priorities Dilma is likely to maintain continuity with the experienced and accomplished Amorim team at Itamaraty, a group that despite controversy has expanded to unprecedented levels Brazil's international clout. (If Amorim himself doesn't stay on, the leading candidate for the Foreign Ministry is his extremely accomplished deputy, Antonio Patriota, a thoughtful world class career diplomat.)

So while Brazil's next leader will be up against major challenges, she, surrounded by the accomplished and effective team that has produced so much progress for Brazil over the past eight years, is well positioned to maintain that country's current and impressive momentum.


David Rothkopf

New dangers over the horizon

It can be argued that one of the several ways in which most states have lost power during the past several decades is associated with the declining inclination and ability of most to go to war. Hard as this may be to accept in a world in which wars dominate the headlines, it is a fact and it has several origins.

First, fewer than 20 countries really possess the power to project force beyond their borders in any meaningful way. Further, only about a dozen have nuclear capability, and fewer still have any long-distance missile capability. And only one really has the capability to wage global war from space, land, sea, and air. (And that one seems stretched waging two regional conflicts in the Middle East.)

Further the costs associated with modern warfare are too high. The 20th Century delivered this message in devastatingly clear human terms and the economic costs were also proven to be immense. War went from being an all too regularly used form of diplomacy by other means to being madness.

Major powers were forced not by goodness but by a rational calculus to find other ways to resolve disputes. Not always...but with greater regularity than in the past. To take just one example, Europe, once addicted to war, effectively swore off the continental conflicts that defined its history. For the most part, war became an affliction of failed or failing states or a very regionalized phenomenon. The big powers for the most part took on much weaker adversaries or engaged in proxy conflicts. And even those engagements have grown intolerably costly as advanced technologies were demonstrated to combine well with unconventional tactics on the part of weaker states engaging stronger ones.

While risks still abound, long term trends have been encouraging...Until now.

Take three news stories from the past week. The first is the piece in today's Times indicating that U.S. commanders are contemplating increasing drone attacks in Pakistan due to concerns about inaction by the Pakistani military. The second concerns reports of a computer worm targeting the Iranian nuclear program. And the last is associated with the statement by Hugo Chavez that Venezuela, though sitting on an ocean of oil, needed to seriously explore "peaceful" nuclear technologies.

The first two are worrisome because they are harbingers of an era in which bloodless, tech-empowered over-the-horizon projections of force might become more effective and pervasive. The implication might well be that advanced powers would feel enabled to once again "rationally" project force. During the first phases of the industrial era, technology raised the costs of war to prohibitive highs. That, perversely, had a stabilizing effect. But now it may well be that the next generation of technologies have ... at least temporarily while distribution of technologies or tech advantages are unequally distributed ...a countervailing impact in the opposite direction.

The Chavez statement is worrisome for related reasons. First, it underscores that no one maintains a monopoly on any technology for long and sooner or later all technologies effectively become ubiquitous. Also, it hints that at some point the rational reasons for avoiding nuclear conflict won't adhere as nuclear capabilities fall into the hands of more irrational actors. Certainly risks rise.

Finally, for the near to medium term, should "bloodless" white collar conflict be seen as the option of only advanced countries and a means by which they can impose their will on the unsettled regions of the emerging world...with very bloody consequences there...not only resentments grow but the poorer nations may feel legitimate in cultivating deterrents of a slightly older but still potent technological vintage. And it is worth considering that a WMD equipped terrorist is a particularly dangerous form of "medium" tech over-the-horizon option.

Which leaves me wondering if the technology revolution that has kept us comparatively safer for a while may now be ushering in a more dangerous world.