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A Hearts and Minds Operation

Obama in Brazil

by BRUNO LIMA ROCHA

For the first time since John F. Kennedy, the USA has a charismatic leader to the point of being popular in other lands, becoming a reference for the electorates of different countries. And, because of his path and ethnic culture, Obama through that his image has an obvious penetration in the Brazilian public opinion.

The American diplomacy strategists operate with this certainty. They are manipulating that symbolic projection with coherence to their interests. There are two axioms in politics that may explain this modus operandi. One of them is to "divide to reign or to conquer", and the other is the "going deep to grass roots popularity of a politician’s" image, accentuating an imaginary representation and not the real or factual projection.

In the action of dividing to reign, the Department of State focus is the rapprochement of the Brazilian diplomatic agenda to the western hemisphere. This obviously implicates a slow removal from Latin America centered theories. It can be explained with an analysis of President Obama’s speech, eulogizing our country in the discursive actions and projecting Brazilian leadership in the Continent. At the same time, the United States has a shy position about recommending the seventh larger economy in the world for a permanent United Nations Security Council seat. In this subject, Washington acted in an identical way, dividing G 20 leaders and specially BRIC countries, putting India and Brazil in opposite positions.

Going back to Obama’s tour, his imaginary penetration in Brazil can be explained by a special combination of an upper class super education basis (as a political scientist and lawyer with very good oratory skills) with the image of an experienced community organizer in Chicago ghettos. The mirror effect works. While he enchanted the Brazilians in Rio and Brasília, the coalition (with NATO leadership) attacked loyalist Muammar El-Khadafi targets in the Libyan territory. It is possible to build a popular character in other societies without passing through media gatekeepers and their way of manufacturing consent. This administration has the know-how to speak directly with the people of other countries without "paying taxes" to local media conglomerate. That’s why Obama has given little or any attention for the Latin-American media (leaders in media business) and put all the emphasis in White House propaganda apparatus, including live blogs and the broadcast through internet, diffusing a big part of President’s public agenda.

A possible characterization of the passage of Obama for Brazil is the exercise of the diplomacy through putting emphasis in people and exalting similarities in both countries path. Barack Hussein said that USA and Brazil are huge "new" western countries with powerful states, composed for a multi-ethnic population and with a slavery common past. This seems very sympathetic and pleased residents of the world largest afro-descending nation. Brazilians self-esteem arose in the heights after that. Here comes the second characterization, which analyzes Obama as the great Imperial Power public relationships, attracting the attentions for this inclination. This tactical maneuver created a game of mirrors among what audiences are seeing: a nice and high educated USA president, and the typical Imperialist way, promoting a "humanitarian bombing", attacking a dictator until recently tolerated.

In George W. Bush times, anti-imperialist positions were easy to spread and to be explained. The son of Reagan’s former vice-president is less qualified and worse as political operator. When Bush Jr. has come to São Paulo to accomplish a calendar with Lula, in November of 2005, the chaos was formed in the largest Brazilian city. Jeb Bush’s brother’s cortege interrupted Down Town traffic in a working day and had against itself a protest action with great proportions. For Latin America social fighters, 11/05/2005 was an unforgettable day. Now, in the last summer days at the southern hemisphere, the couple Michele and Obama, two former students of Ivy League universities like Bush Jr., generated a different sensation with the visit of a US President. Sunday, March 20 begun with a visit to City of God (Cidade de Deus, a huge mix of slum and project in Rio’s west zone) and ended with a creative speech to a VIP audience in the Theatro Municipal. After that, in Brazil, Obama became a brilliant star.

Barack Hussein Obama II is capable of many feats. A well trained Public Relations and propagandist professional, he could execute a typical hearts and minds operation, enchanting all kind of audiences, from the bottom to the top of social pyramid. The "old school" psychological operation was so well done that almost nobody in Brazil noticed the maneuver.

BRUNO LIMA ROCHA is a political scientist, professional journalist and university professor. He is also the editor of Estratégia & Análise website (in Portuguese, Spanish and English) where is concentrated the majority of his papers, articles, radio programs and analysis.