Betraying Our British Allies in the Falklands

How not to repay your friends.

President Obama's diplomatic misadventures have been the stuff of comedy since the earliest days of his administration.  Whether he's bowing low to foreign royalty, palling around with banana-republic dictators, or apologizing to our enemies, patriots cringe whenever Air Force One revs its engines.  America is not well served by becoming a laughingstock.

There are, however, worse things, and the Obama administration is hard at work finding them.

For a little perspective on the latest blunder, let's think back to the campaign.  Was not a favorite anti-Republican attack line condemnation of Bush's "unilateralism"?  That Republicans wanted America to do exactly as it pleased all by itself, disregarding whatever the rest of the world might think?  In fact, wasn't one of Obama's arguments as to why he needed to be President, that electing him would make foreigners like us better?

Yes, changing faces caused a spike in international relations.  Unfortunately, world leaders are not teenage girls or MSNBC anchormen; they don't just fall in love with a pretty face, they expect deeds to match words.  What Obama says doesn't matter nearly so much as what he does.  And what he is doing, is visibly and coldly betraying our allies.

Being Invaded?  You're On Your Own!

Most of the British Empire has vanished into history, but England does still own the odd scrap of land here and there.  One of these remaining vestiges is the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina.

There's no problem with traditional native inhabitants of the Falklands: there weren't any when European explorers discovered them in the 1500s.  The first settlement was founded by the French in 1764, the British showed up the next year, and then the Spanish took over the French.  By the early 1800s, the only remaining "authorities" were plaques placed by both England and Spain asserting a claim they were too cheap to do anything further about.  Argentina tried to found a colony, got in a fight with the U.S. Navy, and once again there was no clear control.

Finally, in 1833 the British returned in force.  They built a navy base and administrative headquarters, breezily telling the Argentines where they could stick their rather tenuous claim.  Since then, for many generations, the Falkland Islanders have seen themselves as British as John Bull.

Except briefly in 1982, when after a century and a half of ignoring the place, Argentina abruptly invaded the islands.  Unfortunately for the military dictatorship of the time, they'd picked the wrong moment: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in no mood to let go of any more British sovereign territory.  The Falkland Island War ended in total defeat for Argentina and a much more powerful British garrison on the islands.

Now, Argentina is at it again.  President Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner has announced a sort of bureaucratic blockade of the islands, demanding any ships going there to ask Argentine permission first.  Why?  Because there may be oil in Falklands waters, the British are trying to drill for it, and the Argentinian government would rather the money go to their struggling economy.  In response, the Royal Navy sent warships.

So far, so ordinary - this sort of thing has happened countless times throughout history and doubtless will continue as long as human nature remains what it is.  This also is exactly why even powerful countries like to have allies.

We in the United States may not hear about it very often, but British soldiers are fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq alongside Americans.  They've been there since Day One.

The political price paid back in their home was if anything greater than the disdain George W. Bush suffered at the hands of the media; previously beloved Prime Minister Tony Blair was forced to resign after the public mood soured, and Gordon Brown is almost as despised.  Both are testifying before an inquiry into their supposed war crimes and lies, a fate unlikely ever to befall Mr. Bush.

What did England get for their loyalty?  Nothing really; they have their own North Sea oil, and are not nearly as dependent on Middle East sources as we are.  Yet Mr. Blair was absolutely confident that staying the very closest international friend of the United States was worth any price, in money or in blood.

Neutral?  Are You Kidding?

Now comes the time for us to be loyal to our loyal friend.  And what happens?  The Obama administration announces that America is neutral in the dispute between England and Argentina.

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton goes, not to England to vow our support, but to Argentina to make nice!  Again, our media are totally ignoring the existence of these events, but the Brits are screaming betrayal; rightly so.

It's all the more inexplicable when you consider that, to invade, the Argentines would have to mount a seaborne amphibious assault.  They did this successfully (albeit temporarily) in 1982, but they're not exactly a major power.  An American navy task group in the area would totally eliminate any serious possibility of conflict.  In fact, this is a perfect example of the most important lesson Barack Obama has yet to learn: by making a credible threat of force, you can often avoid the need to actually use that force.

In his defense, Mr. Obama's aides point out that Ronald Reagan was neutral in 1982.  This is, unfortunately, partially correct - Reagan did indeed proclaim neutrality, try to resolve the dispute diplomatically, and didn't send any American forces.  We regard this as one of Mr. Reagan's mistakes.  But once the shooting started, he supported the British in all ways other than American lives.

American neutrality can lead directly to American deaths.  Remember back when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait?  Apparently he had tried to feel out the local American ambassador, who had no instructions on the subject and had no real reaction.

Hussein took this to mean that America really didn't care which autocrat was running what, and that he was free to invade his neighbor.  He turned out to be quite profoundly wrong on this point, but if our ambassador had made it plain that aggression would be met with deadly force, he probably wouldn't have tried it and would have saved us all a great deal of trouble.

There hasn't been any shooting yet, so it's possible that Mr. Obama is following the same mistaken path as Mr. Reagan and intends to stand by our ally after a period of dithering.  Let's hope so - because if he really, truly intends to stay neutral, we will instantly lose our only major fighting ally of great significance in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The British would withdraw of course; their first job is to defend British sovereign territory which is what the Falklands are.

That would leave our wars as virtually what the Democrats falsely portrayed them as under George W. Bush: an Americans-only imperial adventure.  What's more, where Candidate Obama campaigned against Bush's supposed disrespect to our allies and loss of their confidence, President Obama would have showed real, substantive disrespect and confidence-betrayal in a way that nobody could ever imagine Mr. Bush doing.  Wouldn't that be ironic?

Someday, we will again be in need of allies - and we won't have any.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
You wrote: "Both [PMs] are testifying before an inquiry into their supposed war crimes and lies, a fate unlikely ever to befall Mr. Bush."
You are right- Americans seem to love lying and thieving politicians, and Bush & Obama are in the same category. The Brits' system of Parliament, wherein the party's leader becomes PM, is often disadvantageous: here in the US, when one party controls the White House & Congress, they engage in a feeding frenzy of anti-capitalist hate, spending like there is no tomorrow and attacking citizens and their rights as though their productivity is a crime. Being an ally of such a hate-mongering country of the US is no party, but then who loves a politician? It's a tough job being a tyrant~!
Even Sen Bunning showed- albeit briefly- he has a kinder, gentler, rational soul who abhors what dictatorships entail.

March 9, 2010 8:42 AM
Why do you compare this conflict with the Iraq conflict?

Argentina has been claiming the islands long before there was any oil in the region. "In 1945, upon signing the UN Charter, Argentina stated that it reserved its right to sovereignty of the islands, as well as its right to recover them." [0]

Secondly if any ship passes through Argentine waters to go to the islands they should ask permission.

Secondly it's interesting to notice that while the US government supported the British attack on the islands later, the US government was supporting the dictatorship in Argentina [1]. Same dictatorship that started the war. Maybe it was because it was supporting this dictatorship that the US government said nothing at the beginning.

This is bad excuse to criticize Obamas' foreign policy.

In this article [2] it evens mentioned that US goverment during the war was helping the UK with inteligence! While telling the Argentinians that they are neutral!



[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falklands#cite_note-7
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_War#US_involvement
[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/mar/02/hillary-clinton-argentina-falklands
March 10, 2010 7:56 AM
>Secondly if any ship passes through Argentine waters to go to the islands they should ask permission.

The Falkland Islands lie 300 miles off the South American coast - far outside Argentina's 200-mile exclusive economic zone. If President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's announcement means that all ships headed to the Falkland Island must first get permission from Buenos Aires, then she is in for a rude awakening.
March 11, 2010 11:51 AM

As a British citizen I have to say that for me and many of my countrymen this diplomatic episode effectively killed off any hope that Special-Relationship between our two great nations was worth the sacrifices in blood and treasure, through two wars (one which was internationally very very controversial). Both of which we embarked upon out of loyalty for our erstwhile favourite ally. Its sad because before then ask any British Citizen which country they trusted most I bet 80% would of said the USA. Now more probably have trust in the EU and I hate that.

On a brighter note hopefully Obama will only serve one term and the new president will quickly mend fences as, although damaging, his behaviour is repairable.

And lastly, whilst the BP oil spill was dreadful and BP deserve to be punished the fact that Obama seemed determined to highlight it as a British caused accident by referring to BP as British Petroleum, a name it hasnt used in over a decade, as if by blaming an entire country for the mistake of a company will help. I don't remember the Indians doing that after Bhopal, a much worse disaster. Also the rig itself was run by an American company, a fact that seemed to be forgotten in the scapegoating and Britain bashing.

In short Obama is not into keeping his friends close, but he is all up for keeping his enemies closer.

October 26, 2010 6:49 PM

right on Tory... considering a move to Oxford or East Anglia myself

October 26, 2010 7:03 PM

...yes,yes,...we know. kill all Americans, blah,blah,blah...So, I take it, Falklanders hate the Americans?

March 20, 2011 5:24 PM

Far from it no one hates America.. Quite the opposite, our (British - American) culture and history are entwined.WE LOVE AMERICA!

The Falklands, South Georgia and the Sandwich islands populations choose to be British... The Argentinian government have no respect for the freedom, liberty or choice of the islanders. For the Argentinian government its not about the islands its about the natural resources.

We just wish Obama would have our back as we do with yours in Iraq and Afghanistan! But we know its not the general opinion of the American people as we have the same problems with our poleticians. LONG LIVE AMERICA & BRITAIN, GOD BLESS US BOTH ... LONG MAY THE FALKLANDS BE FREEDOM ARGENTINIAN OPPRESSION ... Our thoughts and prayers are with the Islanders killed by the Argentine military in the falklands war.

February 17, 2012 8:14 PM

Far from it no one hates America.. Quite the opposite, our (British - American) culture and history are entwined.WE LOVE AMERICA!

The Falklands, South Georgia and the Sandwich islands populations choose to be British... The Argentinian government have no respect for the freedom, liberty or choice of the islanders. For the Argentinian government its not about the islands its about the natural resources.

We just wish Obama would have our back as we do with yours in Iraq and Afghanistan! But we know its not the general opinion of the American people as we have the same problems with our poleticians. LONG LIVE AMERICA & BRITAIN, GOD BLESS US BOTH ... LONG MAY THE FALKLANDS BE FREEDOM ARGENTINIAN OPPRESSION ... Our thoughts and prayers are with the Islanders killed by the Argentine military in the falklands war.

February 17, 2012 8:15 PM

Chris, You can forget obama having your back. When we get rid of him we hope the Brits will allow us to have Churchill's statue bust back here in the States and accept our sincere apology for the way obama trashed the gift your country made to ours. We have not forgotten this event.

February 18, 2012 1:49 AM
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