Muddling On

Last week was a good one for Brazil.  We are consistently told that Asia will lead the world out of recession.  Except that’s not the whole headline.  In its entirety it reads: Asia and Brazil will lead the world out of recession.

Chicago #4.  Tokyo?  No way José (that’s the Portuguese pronunciation please – zhoze).  Spain?  European colonialists need not apply in the post-post-colonial era.  Não, não, não. In 2016 Rio will host the Olympics!

And if you are into those frivolous little sporting events, take note:  Brazil will host the World Cup in 2014.

Of course in the post-post-colonial era, globalization-epitomizing economic involvement is bem.  Mostly.  So how about the hottest IPO of the year…  any guesses?  Banco Santander.  Like the first headline though, we’re missing the important bit: Banco Santander Brasil.  Suddenly its São Paolo-based sub looks like the most valuable part of that Spanish empire.  And lest the irony be overlooked, Brazil is providing the lucre for a 21st century Spanish empire.  In your face, Portugal.

Time for a samba!  Brasil, Brasil, Brasil

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For most of the 20th century, Brazil was the country that, in international business and development circles, would amaze the world economically in 5 years. Perennially.  It was a joke so old that people stopped repeating it in educated company.

But Brazil had the caipirinha.  Long before the Sex in the City crowd was sipping muddled wild organic peach and pomegranate pisco martinis in their Manolos and vintage von Furstenberg wraps, the samba and bossa nova crowd was enjoying the captivating caipirinha.  In addition to the self-evident virtues of the tanga bathing suit, Brazilians had long ago discovered the merits of muddling.

Let’s let Vitoria show us how…



The Cowboy has been pinching himself and ingesting guaraná-infused energy drinks to try to re-focus on the agonizing slow-motion trauma of AfPak, as the policy wonks call it.  It’s a mild allergy that keeps interrupting more pleasant thoughts with its mind-bending strategically amorphous nose tickles.



What should the U.S. do?

The Cowboy attended a dinner last week to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The intended speaker, General George Casey, was called away by the President to discuss U.S. strategic options in AfPak, so he wasn’t able to discuss those options with us.  We were left to our own devices, but thanks to the efforts of the General and some deft maneuverings by our hosts, we were able to consider the situation quite ably without him. One interesting thought that I shared with our host (and that he posited back to me in an even more intriguing manner) is that by co-opting the Taliban and offering them some legitimacy, the U.S. might be able to give them a vested interest in preserving the global status quo rather than disrupting it as al-Qa’ida are wont to do.  For as those far wiser than your humble Cowboy pointed out that evening, the Taliban and al-Qa’ida are not the same entity, nor do they share a mission or even a worldview.  That schism should be exploited.

Of course, as Andrew Sullivan says, you follow most any policy path to its logical conclusion and the result is awful. So how about taking a cue from the Brazilians.  Things are a mess now, but just do your best and muddle through.  In five years, it will sort itself out and amaze the world.

Count the Cowboy with those who see the merits in muddling for a while.  You have to use decisive rhetoric of course, so that no one thinks you are going to back out any minute.  But you also privately reserve the right to change course later.

In case you’re holding him to account, the Cowboy reserves his right to change course later too.

Now, where can you get a decent caipirinha in Kabul?


Published in: on October 14, 2009 at 21:51  Leave a Comment  
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