The fact that Dilma Rousseff decided to postpone her official visit to Washington, which had been planned for Oct. 23, has clearly illustrated that the United States’ decision to spy on the Brazilian president was not in the best interest of the United States.
Washington has very little to gain from reading Rousseff's emails or listening to her phone conversations. She is an ally, and has come close to sharing Washington’s positions on subjects such as the Middle East peace process and the Iranian nuclear program, which wasn’t the case during the presidency of her predecessor.
The United States has a lot to lose by spying on friends, both in reputation and leadership. And not only in Brazil, but around the world. There are few things worse than to be seen as a bully who abuses power.
The United States loses politically as well, because it now risks losing Brazil’s support in international organizations. It also loses economically: In response to the spying, the Brazilian government is considering a law that would prevent any American company that cooperates with espionage from operating in Brazil. The law has the potential to effect such giants as Google, Microsoft and other administrators of email systems. Brazil is studying how to reduce its reliance on the United States in terms of telecommunications infrastructure and is building an underwater cable to Europe for its Internet traffic.
There is at least one U.S. company that could lose a $5 billion deal. The Brazilian Air Force is going to modernize its fleet of combat planes next year with the purchase of 36 new planes. The finalists in the bidding process were the French company Dassault, the Swedish company Saad and America’s Boeing. Until the spying allegations surfaced, Rousseff was giving signs that she preferred Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet, and that subject was among the topics she was planning to discuss in Washington during the now-postponed visit.
More importantly than the details of the situation with Brazil, the U.S. government and its citizens should feel ashamed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has spied on the emails, text messages and telephone conversations of the Brazilian president and her Mexican counterpart, Enrique Peña Nieto. Espionage is an act of aggression, prohibited by international law, and violates the founding charter of the United Nations. Finally, it flies in the face of the fundamental human right to privacy.
History lessons not learned
Especially during peacetime, between allied governments, it is an abuse of confidence and demonstrates a basic lack of courtesy.
Lastly, it shows that the United States has failed to learn from its mistakes in international affairs. It continues to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries when it has no business doing so. Even worse, the United States intervenes to promote its own short-term interests without realizing that the intervention will harm its long-term standing.
That is what happened in Nicaragua, where the United States supported the anti-communist dictator Anastasio Somoza and then later helped overthrow him. And in Chile, where the United States helped usher Augusto Pinochet to power and then later helped overthrow him too. In both cases, the United States ended up alienating all possible political parties in the process.
The case of Iraq is even more extreme. Washington supported Saddam Hussein’s secular government so much that it turned a blind eye when he used chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1988. Fifteen years later, the United Stated invaded Iraq to overthrow Hussein, using a lie as an excuse for the invasion.
Then Washington wanted to invade Syria to remind President Bashar al-Assad that chemical weapons are not allowed.
The United States should really ask itself whether it’s prudent to continue intervening in the affairs of other countries, because up to now it hasn’t turned out to be such a great idea.