Lula’s Recalibrated Multipolar Vision Makes Him Amenable To The US’ Grand Strategic Interests
None of the insight shared in this analysis is to suggest that Lula is controlled by the US, but just that his prior imprisonment clearly changed him. He’s no longer the “multipolar revolutionary” that he once was or at least was considered to be, including by the US which deposed his successor and then sought to discredit them both on that perceived basis. Lula’s recalibrated vision of multipolarity makes him acceptable to the US, whose ruling Democrats also love his domestic ideological alignment with them and especially his crusade against the right-wing opposition.
Throwing China & Russia Under The Bus In Buenos Aires
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, is an icon of the Latin American Left and a titan of the global multipolar movement due to his co-founding of BRICS. These impressive credentials, however, are precisely the reason why his differences with fellow BRICS members China and Russia over trade and Ukraine are so unexpected. The present piece will therefore attempt to clarify his strategic calculations in order to discern his motives in disagreeing with those two on these issues.
Regarding the first, he told his Uruguayan counterpart Luis Lacelle Pou last week that he hopes that Montevideo will support sealing Mercosur’s trade deal with the EU before it negotiates one with China. Lula’s request followed his Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira telling the Folha de São Paulo newspaper that Uruguay’s announcement last July that it had taken the first steps to negotiate a trade deal with China could “destroy” Mercosur since Chinese goods would freely circulate the bloc in that scenario.
As for Lula’s differences with Russia over Ukraine, he compared its special operation there to the US’ Hybrid War on Venezuela while speaking in Buenos Aires. According to the newly re-elected Brazilian leader, “In the same way that I am against territorial occupation, as Russia did to Ukraine, I am against too much interference in the Venezuelan process.” Russia had nothing to do with his trip and the comparison that he made to Venezuela is absurd, which is why his remark was so surprising.
Giving Credit Where It’s Due
Despite his disagreements with China over trade and Russia over Ukraine, Lula nevertheless hopes to expand Brazil’s cooperation with both. The first was proven by him expressing such an intent at the beginning of the year when revealing that he received a letter from his Chinese counterpart President Xi to that effect, while the latter took place at the end of last year when he spoke to President Putin. Accordingly, Lula doesn’t recognize Taiwan nor agreed with Germany to indirectly arm Ukraine.
The Reality Of Lula’s Approach To China
Even so, these pragmatic policies don’t take away from what he just said regarding his differences with China over trade and Russia over Ukraine. To return to them and beginning with the first-mentioned, he and his team appear to share the Bolsonaro Administration’s concerns that China is trying to clandestinely enter Mercosur via an Uruguayan backdoor, which they both consider to be a threat to Brazil’s long-term economic interests.
Lula’s solution is to first renegotiate terms of Mercosur’s frozen EU trade deal in order to clinch an agreement with that Western economic bloc, after which he evidently believes that Brazil and its neighbors would be in a better position to negotiate better terms from China. Under no circumstances does he want Uruguay to unilaterally agree to its own trade deal with China first since he thinks this would undercut Mercosur’s unity, harm Brazil’s long-term economic interests, and give China an edge.
As the head of state, it’s his right to formulate policy however he regards as being in his country’s national interests, but it’s still intriguing that his team’s stance on the sensitive issue of negotiating a free trade deal with China is similar to the Bolsonaro Administration’s. This observation obviously won’t be popular among Lula’s most passionate supporters – who’ll either ignore it, falsely claim that it’s different from Bolsonaro’s, and/or attack those who bring it up – but it can’t be denied.
The Reality Of Lula’s Approach To Russia
Turning towards Lula’s differences with Russia over Ukraine, his policy towards the New Cold War’s top proxy war is also similar to Bolsonaro’s. The former’s government voted at the UNGA to condemn its special operation right at the onset in March as supposed “aggression” and then once again in October to condemn its reunification with Novorossiya as a supposed “annexation”. Bolsonaro himself refused to personally condemn Russia, however, unlike Lula who just broke that taboo by doing so in Buenos Aires.
Judging by his words, this icon of the Latin American Left and titan of multipolarity is continuing his predecessor’s policy towards the Ukrainian Conflict. This explains why he referred to Russia’s actions there as an “occupation” and compared them with the US’ Hybrid War on Venezuela. Once again, Lula’s most passionate supporters will be furious with this observation, but they can’t deny it just like they also can’t deny that he’s continuing Bolsonaro’s policy of opposing Uruguay’s trade talks with China.
These “politically incorrect” facts naturally prompt the question of why Lula is continuing Bolsonaro’s policies towards China on trade and Russia on Ukraine. After all, it’s Lula himself who uttered those two relevant statements that were earlier analyzed in this piece and not any members of Brazil’s permanent military, intelligence, or diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”) who could have been appointed by his predecessor and thus blamed for continuing his policies without Lula’s permission.
The Real Difference Between Lula & Bolsonaro
Everyone’s responsible for their own words, and Lula’s latest ones about China and Russia are no exception. Considering this, the emerging conclusion is that his only real differences with Bolsonaro concern socio-political issues at home. Lula’s views are liberal-globalist and aligned in the domestic sense with the US’ ruling Democrats’ while Bolsonaro’s are conservative-nationalist and were aligned with Trump’s, thus explaining why Biden’s team hated him.
By contrast, Biden’s team wholeheartedly supports Lula since they share very similar views on climate change, COVID, “LGBTQI+”, and the supposed threat that their right-wing opponents as a whole (and not just a few extremists like every side has) putatively present to national security. The following five analyses share more insight into this “politically incorrect” observation, the details of which are beyond the scope of the present piece but might still be interesting for intrepid readers:
Lula’s Clumsy Balancing Act
That said, Lula’s domestic ideological alignment with the ruling US Democrats’ liberal-globalist views doesn’t extend to foreign policy as proven by his pragmatic refusal to recognize Taiwan and indirectly arm Ukraine via Germany. This shows that he does indeed support the global systemic transition to complex multipolarity (“multiplexity”) and isn’t in favor of indefinitely delaying it in order to uphold US-centric unipolarity like that declining hegemon and its European vassals are so desperately trying to do.
At the same time, his vision of multipolarity isn’t the same as Russia’s, which President Putin explained on three key occasions last year in what can collectively be described as his Global Revolutionary Manifesto, the details of which can be read in the three preceding hyperlinks. Unlike the Russian leader, whose country was compelled by circumstances beyond its control into becoming the leader of the worldwide multipolar movement, the restored Brazilian one wants to keep a foot in both de facto blocs.
These are the US-led West’s Golden Billion and the jointly BRICS- & SCO-led Global South of which Brazil is a part. The second, it should be clarified, is also eventually expected to be jointly led by other multipolar organizations like the African Union (AU), ASEAN, and CELAC, et al, though this hasn’t yet happened. India perfected the art of balancing between both blocs, which Lula’s Brazil seeks to emulate, albeit much more clumsily as proven by his public condemnation of Russia’s special operation.
As proof of his intentions, he criticized both Russia and China to differing extents during the first foreign trip of his third tenure as was earlier analyzed in this piece, and will also be visiting the US next month. These moves can be interpreted as an attempt to balance between the Golden Billion and the Global South, though critics might regard them as unnecessary shows of fealty to the US. In any case, it also shouldn’t be forgotten that he returned Brazil to CELAC during that trip too, which was very important.
Lula’s Vision For CELAC
Lula seemingly envisages that multipolar bloc becoming one of the joint leaders of the Global South, which is reasonable and quite likely. He does not, however, appear to expect that CELAC will meaningfully defy the US like his Venezuelan counterpart Maduro implied earlier in the month that he wants to have happen. Rather, the Brazilian leader arguably wants CELAC to have excellent relations with its northern neighbor, albeit more balanced and respectful ones (at least on the surface).
This assessment is based off of his implied vision of Mercosur as informed by what he just said about its trade deals vis-à-vis the EU and China. Lula envisages that regional integration bloc cutting a deal with a major member of the Golden Billion in order to then give it leverage in cutting a complementary one with a major member of the Global South. His Mercosur strategy will thus likely be expanded upon to shape his vision of much larger CELAC in the global systemic transition to multiplexity.
While there are some who might expect Lula’s multipolar grand strategy to be opposed by the US, there are also plausible reasons as to why that declining unipolar hegemon might actually support it. The US’ own strategists seem to have tacitly accepted that the aforesaid transition is presently in effect and irreversible as evidenced by them acknowledging India’s rise as a globally significant Great Power over the past year, which was a direct result of them failing to force Delhi into dumping Russia.
The Geostrategic Reasons Behind The US’ Support For Lula
It therefore follows that they might they also tacitly accept CELAC’s eventual rise as one of the joint leaders of the global systemic transition to multiplexity, albeit with the intent of indirectly controlling this irreversible trend for the purpose of decelerating the decline of the US’ unipolar hegemony. So long as CELAC adheres to Lula’s implied vision of prioritizing ties with the Golden Billion over major members of the Global South like China and Russia instead of Maduro’s revolutionary one, then this is acceptable.
To explain, just like Lula envisages leveraging CELAC’s deals with the Golden Billion in order to then give it an edge in cutting complementary ones with the Global South, so too could the US exploit the priority that he envisages this bloc affording to its “sphere of influence” in order to not lose control of multipolar trends. Since the decline of the US’ unipolar hegemony is presently in effect and irreversible like its strategists already tacitly accept, then the most optimal policy is to attempt to control this process.
With that in mind, Lula’s restored leadership of Brazil and his vision for CELAC are ideal for advancing the US’ grand strategic goals, ergo its full support for him nowadays. In the past, the US considered him and his successor Dilma Rousseff to be “dangerous multipolar revolutionaries” along the lines of Castro, Chavez, and Maduro, hence why it deposed them and sought to discredit their prior rule through “Operation Car Wash”, but they subsequently realized that his humbled Lula and thus now support him.
His criticisms of China and Russia alongside his vision for CELAC that contrasts with Maduro’s recently articulated one confirm that they made the right choice in supporting him over Bolsonaro, who was too much of “wild card” for their liking and whose “right-wing populism” challenged their liberal-globalism at least in the domestic socio-political sense. By comparison, Lula is domestically aligned with the US’ ruling Democrats, more predictable, and “tame”, which thus makes it easier for them to deal with him.
Lula Should No Longer Be Considered A “Multipolar Revolutionary”
The only “compromise” that the US has to make is to treat him, Brazil, and Latin America as a whole with a bit more respect than before. That, however, is inevitable due to how irreversible multipolar trends have restricted the ways in which the US can impose its unipolar hegemony over the hemisphere. This doesn’t mean that it’ll stop meddling in their affairs, but just that it’ll at least superficially try to treat them (or some of them like Lula) a bit better and more like equals.
These grand strategic calculations add context to why the US supports Lula over Bolsonaro, the optics of which are inexplicable for many since they can’t countenance why it would back their former multipolar foe over the same man who their Hybrid War on Brazil helped sweep into power. The “politically incorrect” reality is that Lula is now regarded by the US as more “manageable” than Bolsonaro was for the reasons that were explained, especially the former’s domestic ideological alignment with its elite.
If Lula was still the “multipolar revolutionary” that the US considered him to be during his prior two terms, then it wouldn’t have supported him and would have ensured in one way or another that he lost his re-election bid. He’s not who he once was or at least was considered to be, however, as evidenced by him practicing the opposite grand strategy as he used to with respect to nowadays prioritizing deals with the Golden Billion in order to then get leverage over the Global South instead of the reverse.
This contrasts with Maduro’s vision, who believes that Venezuela, CELAC, and the Global South as a whole should prioritize deals with multipolar countries like China and Russia in order to then have leverage for cutting complementary ones with members of the Golden Billion like the EU. Accordingly, the US still remains opposed to the Venezuelan leader (though it’s recently started pragmatically engaging with him due to its energy-related interests) while wholeheartedly supporting Lula.
None of this insight is to suggest that Lula is controlled by the US, but just that his prior imprisonment clearly changed him. He’s no longer the “multipolar revolutionary” that he once was or at least was considered to be, including by the US which deposed his successor and then sought to discredit them both on that perceived basis, but he’s still at least formally committed to Leftist-like domestic economic policies for reducing poverty, which is the cause that he’s been most passionate about his entire life.
Lula’s recalibrated vision of multipolarity – which was presumably conceived during his imprisonment – makes him acceptable to the US, whose ruling Democrats also love his domestic ideological alignment with them and especially his crusade against the right-wing opposition. For these reasons as well as those related to how the global systemic transition restricted the ways in which the US can impose its hegemony over the hemisphere, Lula is thus seen by its strategists as the ideal Latin American leader.
That’s why they enthusiastically backed his return to the presidency and celebrated his victory over Bolsonaro since it’s expected that Lula will be easier to deal with, especially now that he’s no longer perceived as being a “dangerous multipolar revolutionary” like Maduro proudly remains. This is the real Lula as he objectively exists in 2023 and not the one that his most passionate supporters fantasize that he is, which must be accepted by those who aspire to accurately analyze his third term.