Obama's Falklands Neutrality: Positively Reaganite

When the Argentine army, under the command of the rancid military dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri, invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher's popularity was in free fall, unemployment was at its highest point since the 1930s, and the Iron Lady looked to go down in ignominy as the most unpopular leader in modern British history. And despite the criticism surrounding the sinking of the Belgrano, the electoral boost received by Thatcher government after her military's decisive victory rescued her tenure as Prime Minister (this would later be dubbed the "Falklands Effect"). 

Now, almost thirty years later, the Argentinians are making noise about regaining sovereignty over the islands, cheered on by allies in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Cuba. And both British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose poll numbers are consistently dire, and Argentinian President Christina Kirchner, also struggling with sagging popularity, could use a Falklands Effect of their own. While there appears to be no threat of military hostilities (the Argentinians have claimed to have no military designs on the territory and are instead petitioning the United Nations for assistance), the chest-thumping, jingoistic debates over oil rights and sovereignty are again dominating the news in Buenos Aires.

The Obama administration has refused to publicly support the British in this latest dispute, with a State Department official telling reports that "We are aware not only of the current situation but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality."

A handful of conservative websites pounced. RedState denounced the administration's decision, noting the "staunch support the U.S. gave Britain under President Reagan during the 1982 Falklands War." Writing at the Heritage Foundation blog, Nile Gardiner describes the Obama administration's response as a "disgrace" for "adopting a strictly neutral approach." And so on.

The (London) Times writes that the Obama position is in "stark contrast to the public backing and vital intelligence offered by President Reagan to Margaret Thatcher once she had made the decision to recover the islands by force in 1982."

Note the phrase "once she had made the decision," a distinction that eludes the Reagan hagiographers. Because before the British took military action in 1982, the Reagan administration was, to the consternation of the British foreign office, very much on the fence and, initially, wedded to the neutrality position. Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, lobbied for the Argentinian cause, fearful of the power vacuum that could appear in the event of a British victory. 

In a letter to Thatcher, Reagan said that his government would take a neutral position on the matter—again, causing great anger—but would come out in favor of its ally if the Argentinians decide to start shooting.

It's important to remember that even after hostilities commenced, Reagan was pressing the Thatcher government for a ceasefire. Again, to the profound irritation of Thatcher. While British troops advanced on Port Stanley, the two leaders spoke on the telephone, with Reagan suggesting an immediate cessation of fighting. As the Times noted in 1992, Thatcher, "with barely concealed impatience, scotched the plan with a verbal explosion."

And it was only a communications error that prevented the United States from abstaining, rather than vetoing, a United Nation Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire—which Britain strenuously opposed.

In his memoirs, George Schultz remembers another Falklands-related fissure in the "special relationship." More "Iron Lady" seething:

I had persuaded President Reagan that we should vote in favor of a balanced UN resolution on the Falklands. Although our consultations had let her know what was coming and our negotiations produced a resolution she could live with, Margaret Thatcher was furious. We voted with Argentina and the rest of the Western Hemisphere for a resolution that she opposed. Her ambassador, on instructions, read me off like a sergeant would a recruit in a Marine Corps boot camp. I felt Mrs Thatcher was wrong to oppose us for taking a reasonable position on a critical issue in our neighborhood. And Wright was wrong to lay it on so thick. I worried that President Reagan would be alarmed at Margaret Thatcher's reaction, but I found that he, too, was getting a little fed up with her imperious attitude on this matter.

As Schultz notes later in his memoirs, it wouldn't be the last Reagan-Thatcher rift of foreign policy. She would furiously oppose America's 1983 intervention in Grenada. 

It is important to remember that the "special relationship" has not always been one of mutual sycophancy and uniformity of purpose. The 1982 dispute between Argentina and Great Britain, contra RedState and other conservative bloggers, required significant lobbying from the prime minister and Whitehall to guarantee American support. 

For the most balanced, succinct account of Thatcher's Falkland War decisions, see the chapter "Salvation in the South Atlantic" in John Campbell's excellent 2003 biography Margaret Thatcher: The Iron Lady.

Update: Over at The Spectator, the always interesting Alex Massie makes a similar argument.

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  • Mad Max||

    Obama's actual words were:

    'Oh, no, don't tell me that Argentina and the UK are having that Falkland dispute again! I don't want to get involved in that whole Falkland controversy. I mean, who really cares about those Falkland Islands?'

    No, that wouldn't work - you need a New York accent. I heard a comedian do that shtick a few years ago on the radio.

  • ||

    Is that like the bit about the Mother Vulcan statue?

  • Tim||

    Thatcher herself dilly-dallied prior to the Argentine invasion and, as facts emerged, came under a lot of fire from some quarters for neglecting Falklands' security. No one is perfect. Of course, Obama isn't fit to hold her pencils, quite frankly.

  • wackyjack||

    And yet a firm grasp on grammar eludes our author.


    Sorry. Being this deep in a fifth releases the Grammar Goebbels in me.

    Wait a sec. This is Reason. Why am I apologizing? Why am I still typing? Why did I buy Old Crow?

  • ||

    Because you're a cheap drunk? That answers all three questions, by the way.

  • ||

    Why did I buy Old Crow?

    Why wouldn't you buy Old Crow? If you get a liter bottle and drink the whole thing in one sitting you get both dinner *and* a show.

  • Buenos Noches||

    "Argentine"

  • ||

    Reagan surrendered to Lebanon after 241 US Marines were killed.

    What a pacifist!

  • ||

    It's so wonderful when you go off your meds, shriek.

  • oaktownadam||

    a distinction that alludes the Reagan hagiographers

    I think you want 'eludes', not 'alludes'.

  • ||

    Kirchner's got a Dallas bitch vibe, and I enjoy seeing Obama humiliated, rebuffed and chagrined, so I say Go Team Brit!

    The Brits' Obama remorse is just as much fun to witness as my countrymens'.

  • D.R.M.||

    Yeah, the Reagan comparison is stupid.

    However, the U.S. position should be:

    "The basis of Argentine claims to the islands are frivolous set against both the desires of the islanders and the 177 years of continuous and actual British sovereignty over the islands. The United States dismisses them as such."

  • Colin||

    If Reagan were around today he'd be called a RINO by the same people who worship him like deity.

  • ||

    Yeah, the whole that-rock-of-land-lies-close-to-our-shore-so-it's-ours seems a poor basis for determining sovreignty. The Falklands - and Gibralter, for that matter - are British. I mean, India doesn't try to claim Diego Garcia and they've got much better reasons for wanting to stick it to Britain than either Argentina or Spain.

  • MNG||

    I think its crazy to consider the Falkland Islands to be part of the UK. Get a map out. Locate England. Locate the Falklands. The first thing that pops into most sane people's minds when you do that is "They say that is theirs? WTF?"

  • ManikMonkee||

    More to do with the fact that the people who have lived there for nearly two centuries don't want anything to do with the Argentinian government.
    As the Argentinians have only managed to maintain a democracy for a couple of years and prior to that had some of the most vicious fascist regimes in the region. Its not surprising

    On another note Christina Kirchner
    Presidente mas caliente at the moment IMHO

  • MNG||

    "More to do with the fact that the people who have lived there for nearly two centuries don't want anything to do with the Argentinian government."

    I'm glad to see you think the criteria for determining what country land belongs to should be up the group of people on the land, because I have a few Occupied Territories to show you...

  • yet another dave||

    I think its crazy to consider the Falkland Islands to be part of the UK. Get a map out. Locate England. Locate the Falklands. The first thing that pops into most sane people's minds when you do that is "They say that is theirs? WTF?"

    Get out a map find Hawaii The US says it's theirs WTF! Thats just stu.. oh never mind

  • MNG||

    By all means bring Hawaii's coming under the US into this discussion. Yeah, no force or fraud there!

  • ||

    The only thing that was on the Falklands were penguins and seals before the British started dropping people off there... Hawaii has a more legit claim to sovereignty than Argentina has claim over the Falklands... The USA is Right next door to Canada, used to be a British colony therefore Canada has a legitimate claim of ownership over the lower 48 states perhaps we should go to the UN with that... It would be preferable to taking it by force

  • GILMORE||

    yet another dave|2.27.10 @ 1:58PM|#
    The only thing that was on the Falklands were penguins and seals before the British started dropping people off there..

    Correctamundo.

    Well, more or less. The brits 'discovered' the islands in the 16th century, found nothing but rocks and penguins, claimed it for the Queen, but didnt set up a colony for quite a while after. It was always being used by the French and Spanish as a shipping entrepot, pit stop, whatever, for traveling through the south seas. The first colony I believe was *french*, and the brits set up their own slightly later on, unaware that there were two different ports there. When France & Britian went to war as they often did, the Spanish stepped in and claimed the islands as their own (1770), although they'd never set up any colony there and had limited previous use of it. It was simply seen as spoils of war inherited from their french alliance. The Brits left for a while between 1776 and 1820, never abandoning sovereignty, but not interested in fighting over it at the moment, and Spain claimed to manage the place, but in reality there was little going on. I think it was used just as a prison. Then when Argentina became independent, the brits returned, and the *argentinians* claimed it as inherited from the non-existent spanish sovereignty. So they've been pissing and moaning about this pretty much since the emergence of their 'nation'.

    The population of the island is like 90% british, with some french and Portuguese as well. The only natives of any 'spanish' derivation happen to be of chilean descent.

    I find the story of the place interesting partly because it encapsulates a lot of detail of the colonial/post colonial changes in the world. The truth is, there has never been any Argentinian role in the history of the place, other than the fact that they either feel the Spanish bequeathed them title, or that proximity makes for sovereignty. Neither argument makes much sense given the history.

    As for the war in the 80s, this book here

    http://www.amazon.com/Falkland.....amp;sr=1-7

    ...was a pretty good read for those who like military history. Clearly it was a 'rah rah' type history for British consumption, but for what it is, its the best of its type. Better than most of the books I've read about Iraq or Afghanistan, with maybe the exception of CobraII & Ghost Wars...

    Anyhoo

  • pedantic asshole||

    "a distinction that alludes eludes the Reagan hagiographers"

  • pedantic asshole||

    Fuck you and your blazing fast fingers, oaktownadam

  • ||

    Picking on its/it's is pedantry. Noticing a professional writer using "alludes" when he meant "eludes" is just for fun.

    I once used "lathed" when I meant "laved," which is...noticeable. I know the difference between licking and wood turning, of course, but must not have been paying attention when I ran spell check.

    I still laugh when others do it, but I'm laughing with, not at.

  • Chicken George||

    "Eludes" not "alludes"

  • Mike||

    All the Argentinians have to do is take 5 British people hostage on TV. Boom! War won.

  • Hacha Cha||

    if Argentina tried to regain the Falklands militarily they would suffer perhaps worse than they did in the 80s.

  • Hacha Cha||

    oh and do the Argentinians want the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands this time too?

  • ||

    yes, they want all the other islands, too, but not "this time" - they have wanted them all along. they want a slice of Antarctic, too.

    I wouldn't be 100% sure of "no threat of military hostilities", as that would mean presuming their puppet government has firm control over their army? does it have?

  • wingnutx||

    Reagan didn't have the same baggage.

    Obama was held up as a bit of an idol, then shat all over the 'special relationship' was viewed as snubbing the queen and the PM.

    Reagan and Thatcher's relationship could withstand this sort of much easier than a the tepid one in place now.

    Still, it'll blow over. They'll have a beer summit. Warm, in a shatter-proof pint class.

  • ||

    "glass" not "class" no doubt bitter

  • BakedPenguin||

    I wonder if there might be a draw down in British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Not as a payback, of course, but if their allies aren't going to help them protect their islands, they'll have to do it themselves.

  • ||

    THe South American countries are ruled by fascist depots. The Chinese gov. and news say OBama is a clown, I agree.

  • ||

    "despots" not "depots". One could perhaps store a panda division in a depot.

  • MNG||

    "THe South American countries are ruled by fascist depots. The Chinese gov. and news say OBama is a clown, I agree."

    Most Bizarre Post Ever

  • Happy Jack||

    fascist depots

    It's an entire warehouse of ethos, Dude!

  • ||

    all in all, this s**t could turn out very nasty.

    see, fighting in remote places requires quite a lot of logistical capabilities (Japanese learned this the hard way in ww2). this time, Argentines have a capability to throw cannon fodder at Brits at a much faster rate. at the end of the day they'd probably lose again, but the toll would me much higher.

    I'd suggest starting throwing crap at Argentine embassies around the world *now* to inform them that not everybody supports them like Chavez.

  • ||

    Sounds like a bunch of political Mumbo Jumb to me dude.

    Jess
    www.total-anonymity.cz.tc

  • MNG||

    Freedom House's ratings demonstrate that painting the current Argentine regime as "TEH SOCIALISTS/FASCISTS" is going to be pretty difficult, so empire defending racists are going to have to find a different meme to support England's bogus claims...

  • ||

    "...so empire defending racists are going to have to find a different meme to support England's bogus claims..."

    Aregentina, like Chile has a very strong *European* flavor (compared to Mexico etc) sot that 'racist' dog won't hunt.

  • Jeffersonian||

    The last time I was in BA, I was with some Brazilian pals and they were definitely the darkest dudes on the calle. An Argie is an Italian that lives in a French house, speaks Spanish and thinks he's British. Not exactly a glorious mosaic of color there.

    Damn good beef, though. Try the chimichurri.

  • OMG||

    Man did you nail it. In a former life, my law practice was primarily Brazilian, Chilean, Argentinean, Mexican, Indian and Dutch clients. I got a really good laugh out of "An Argie is an Italian that lives in a French house, speaks Spanish and thinks he's British", I knew one Argentinean lawyer who that describes to a tee.

  • ||

    empire defending racists

    You are in full idiot mode today I see.

  • wingnutx||

    I guess you agree that wogs start at the channel.

  • MNG||

  • ||

    Anybody feel like giving me a fact and truth filled history lesson in 3 sentences or less on how the Brits came to hold the Falklands in the first place?

  • Mad Max||

    I can answer that question for you:

    No.

  • ||

    here is:

    1-After the French took ownership of the islands, the British tried to do, but it was late, they were French.

    2-After the French signed a treaty recognizing Spanish ownership of the islands; the British also signed a treaty recognizing Spanish ownership of the islands (Nookta Convention treaty).

    3- After Spain designing the islands “Buenos Aires territory”, the British invaded Buenos Aires, and failed. Then invaded again and failed.

    4-After Argentina declaration of independency, UK recognized it, validating Argentine ownership of the islands.

    5-After Argentina designed a governor for the islands, and settled his legal population, UK took the islands by force, expelled Argentine population, and settled British people, but denying his British nationality.

    6-After the Falkland’s war, UK pretends to create a state non recognized by United Nations, pretends that Argentina claims the islands just “because they are near”, and pretends that his invading population have right to take over Argentine territory.

    7-After no country eating UK fairy tale, UK rants that USA stays neutral.

  • Anonymous||

    Basically, until the British put a claim on the island, there was a temporary population who used it for sheep farming for about a third of the year. Then the British arrived. Took control and claimed the island. This permanent colony has lived there for the best part of 2 centuries now and every referendum on the island visa vis the question of who they would prefer to belong to has come down 100% to the British. Its become a little point of populist rhetoric in Argentina to vow to win back the islands (as with Spain and Gibraltar, which has a similar situation)and now it turns out there's a good supply of oil there they've ramped it up a bit again. If MNG and others who have been fed on a diet of British movie villains for most of their lives want to side with the Argentines on this one they'd better think about all the off shore territories the US has. Fact of the matter is, proximity to something does not mean you own it.

  • GILMORE||

    Basically, until the British put a claim on the island, there was a temporary population who used it for sheep farming for about a third of the year. Then the British arrived.

    This is not my understanding.

    Everything I've ever read stated unequivocally that the islands were 100% uninhabited until European settlement, although there was some evidence of possible ice-age habitation. It was not exactly a convenient place for indigenous (read: spanish & indian mainlanders) people to pop off to with a load of sheep, in any case.

    I think you might be describing the way the colonist population developed over the years, but not any pre-british settlement.

  • MNG||

    All you people with vacation property who use it only 1/3 of the year beware, according to Anom if someone lands on such property intending to stay there all of the year, it is theirs.

    Of course he doesn't mean that, there is no neutral principle that he wants to be applied around the world, it's just European Power=Good, crazy brown people=bad.

    BTW-Way to misread liberals in thinking that we don't question the US acquisition of Hawaii, Peurto Rico, etc

  • Jersey Patriot||

    Argentina isn't brown. It's whiter than America. Put down the furniture polish, you retard.

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    Peurto? You inability to spell proves you're too stupid to contribute.

  • MNG||

    Oh Lord, it's John-boy! And he's pointing out spelling errors. That's like the local retard noticing an error in his college-attending cousin's term paper...

  • ||

    "You inability to spell"
    "Your inability to spell"
    look up non sequitur

  • Anonymous||

    What you're forgetting is that the Argentinian claim to the islands stems from the Spanish claim, a European imperialistic claim. There are no indigenous Falkland islanders. Not only this, but you seem to show a distaste for self-determinism. The people of the Falklands do not want to be Argentinian. They have voted time and time again to remain British, they have a longstanding semi-worship for Margeret Thatcher because of her liberation of the islands. You can try and paint this as a "oppressive european vs oppressed south american" thing all you like, but it just isn't true.

  • MNG||

    I personally love the idea of using the will of the people in any given area to determine who owns that land. I just doubt you really mean that as a criteria to be applied around the world. For example, based on that criteria, Palestine is already a state, one that is being occupied at gun point. Right (remember my general rule: Israel makes any right-winger make contradictory, crazy claims)?

  • OMG||

    Diao ni de ma, ni xian jia chan

  • Nipplemancer||

    IIRC, the french had the original claim on the islands

  • GILMORE||

    Nix: the british planted the first flag; the french set up the first settlement on a different island but there was never any dispute of the British record of initial 'discovery'. It was the spanish who later made a claim in 1770 and temporarily administered the islands, about 100 years after the brits had been parking there regularly.

  • A Brit||

    The US is quite right to stay out of this one - you have to deal with the South Americans every day, we don't. There are plenty of problems which we need America for - this isn't one of them. Keep your powder dry for when we need it. Oh, and remember who owns the newspapers calling for Obama's head.

  • ||

    So dammit, is it Argentines or Argentinians? Argentine or Argentinian? And where does Rod Argent fit in?

    Even Moynihan used both terms interchangeably in the same post above, so I guess that means the AIPAC stylebook hasn't ruled on this.

    Anyway, the isles are so insignificant that we shouldn't even want to fuck with the Falklands with Margaret Thatcher's dick.

    Anyway, we made the first mess there in 1831.

  • ||

    Ok, so if the Faulklands rightfully belongs to Argintina because the islands are close to Argintina, then I suppose that Cuba rightfully belongs to the US?

  • MNG||

    Sigh.
    It's not so much that the Falkland's closeness to Argentina validates their claim over it as the UK's astonishing distance from them makes their claim less credible. I mean, take Hawaii. Other than historical force of arms is there any reason why Hawaii would be part of the US? It literally seems to have no connection to our nation...

  • Jeffersonian||

    So do you recommend an ethnic cleansing of the Falklands, MNG, or simply disenfranchisement of its populace?

  • monolith||

    MNG
    300 miles isn't that close.
    I don't think its comparable at all to Palestine/Israel.
    "is there any reason why Hawaii would be part of the US?"
    maybe that the people who live there want to be american and have been american for a considerable period of time?

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...where does Rod Argent fit in?

    Apparently, he's upset that Margaret Thatcher isn't around.

  • Bigus||

    What country, exactly, is supporting this XXI century act of imperialism?

  • ||

    An actual complaint about conservatives that has substance from Moynanhan!??!

    I am stunned

    But the proper criticism of Redstate contrasted with the all over the place but where it counts trash talk of Rush and Beck does seem a little odd.

  • ||

    UK should be deeply wrong for USA to go to such extreme.

    And for a legal and ethical viewpoint, UK is completely wrong.

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