Energy: We didn't hear the administration crow about it, but Brazil is about to get $10 billion from U.S. taxpayers to develop its offshore oil reserves. It's not a bad idea, but something's still wrong with the big picture. Given how many ratholes our government could pour its money down — wind farms, switch grass — it's good to learn some cash is going toward something productive. Last week, Spain's news wire reported that the U.S. Eximbank is raising its stake in Brazil's rich offshore oil fields to as much as $10 billion, from an initial $2 billion. We'll admit that, on first blush, spending such money overseas when we've got plenty at home sounds a little questionable. But the investment has both practical and strategic benefits for our energy security. First, the U.S. money is a loan, and Brazil has excellent credit with an investment-grade BBB sovereign rating and a record of responsible borrowing. Whatever we loan the Brazilians will be paid back on time and with interest. Second, the cash will encourage Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras, to contract with American businesses. And we aren't just talking about oil companies, but software, steel, research, environmental impact and engineering concerns, to name a few others. Third, drilling new offshore discoveries in Brazil's Tupi field is an epic project in its own right. Cutting through 10 miles of ultrahard salt amid wild temperature fluctuations to extract as much as 40 billion barrels of oil, maybe more, is a grand project. It will create technological breakthroughs not seen since the space program, and qualifies as a great engineering feat. Along with the 1,712-mile natural gas pipeline to be constructed from Alaska to the lower 48, it ought to stir America's imagination to continue to break new frontiers. When the strategic factors are brought into place, the benefits become very obvious. Four stand out. First, the project will counteract a $10 billion Chinese investment that would otherwise make China the biggest investment player in Brazilian oil. Last March, the Chinese national oil company also offered the Brazilians $10 billion on the same project, which all told will require $30 billion in capital. Now, it won't be just China calling the shots. And besides, our technology and way of operating are superior. Second, it will put more oil on the global market, ensuring that energy crises and soaring crude prices won't keep whipsawing the world economy. Oil is fungible in a global market, and it doesn't matter who buys Brazil's oil. With more supply, prices should go down. Third, the project will bring the U.S. and Brazil closer — a foreign policy goal. But there are also personalities here that are pretty fortuitous for ensuring success. The Obama administration has named Tom Shannon, former assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, as U.S. ambassador to Brazil. On policy, Shannon is a heavyweight and will ensure that U.S.-Brazil relations advance. Fourth, new oil on the market will break the back of the region's leading troublemaker, Hugo Chavez. Venezuela sits on 100 million barrels of oil, and Chavez intends to rule for a long time. Developing Brazil's energy will give the socialist autocrat the one thing he fears — competition. Venezuela is now America's No. 2 oil supplier (having passed up Mexico and Saudi Arabia), providing us with 1 million barrels a day. If we could buy from Brazil instead, he may be history. Having said all this, the question remains: Why must we go so far and spend so much taxpayer money to drill oil when we could unleash our private sector to do it here for free ? Eximbank officials are serving America's interests by developing Brazil. But our Congress, which refuses to encourage offshore drilling, and our Interior Department, which is pulling permits for inland development, are not. At the center of it is energy security. If lending money to Brazil for oil is a good idea, isn't freeing our own companies to develop America's vast reserves an even better one? But failing that, this promising venture 170 miles off the Brazilian coast will have to do.