Is Obama Betraying Britain?

25 February 2010

This is irritating but should not come as a surprise:

Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London, Buenos Aires and at the UN.

Despite Britain’s close alliance with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the issue. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue.

[…]Senior US officials insisted that Washington’s position on the Falklands was one of longstanding neutrality. This 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.

“We are aware not only of the current situation but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality,” a State Department spokesman told The Times. “The US recognises de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.”

The Times overstates the extent of US support during the Falklands War. That is, while said support was eventually forthcoming and, indeed, extremely useful it was far from immediate. Indeed, initially the State Department sympathised with the Argentine position while Jean Kirkpatrick, then Ambassador to the United Nations, openly sided with the Galtieri regime. Better to support a nasty little junta as a bulwark against lefty influence in Latin America you see? And to hell with the interests of your friends. Interests trump alliances, or so the argument went. 

And something of that spirit still exists in Washington. There’s no desire to take a public stand on this issue that would irritate other Latin American countries who have no need to be reminded of what they deem US interference in Latin America. Equally, there is a certain view in Washington that the Falklands are a mildly absurd remnant of a long-gone British imperial era and, since the death of that age was a US objective post-WW2 it’s not a great surprise that Foggy Bottom remains unimpressed by the last embers of that once glorious fire.

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If push does eventually come to shove then the Americans will, I suspect hope, back Britain. But they’d rather not have to take a decision of any sort. If that means annoying the UK then so be it. And of course, the UK can be annoyed because Washington calculates, not unreasonably, that in the end, Britain won’t do much to frustrate US objectives elsewhere whereas the Latin Americans will in areas of policy in which Britain has next to no interest or stake.

So, yes, it’s annoying but not quite a case of, as Andrew Stuttaford puts it, Obama to Britain: Drop Dead. Toby Young has a nice line in outrage here too but I think, or hope anyway, that he slightly overcooks it.

Meanwhile – surprise! – the Guardian publishes yet another piece arguing that the rights and wishes of the poor bloody islanders are of no account and that, actually, Argentina should be given everything it wants.


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Show comments
  • Aiden

    As an American, let me say this is absolute rubbish! The island has always been majority British (when populated) and overwhelming rejects Argentine sovereignty. This is just another in a long line of examples of the Obama Administration doing whatever it can to undermine our allies for no good reason whatsoever. Please Brits, don’t judge us on this fool!

  • Drew

    The US Congress ended up SUPPORTING the UK!

  • José

    Argentina Constitution or Law of Laws, forbid war as a solution for the Malvinas conflict. But everybody is committed to a pacific negotiation probably with respect to islanders way of life. After almost 30 years of the war, and here we find the british public prone to the war talk. The first one was Gordon Brown that surprised everybody saying some nonsense about it. Here nobody was merely suggesting the possibility of a armed conflict. Having grown up in a society that admires british culture, with a lot of friends with british ascendance (a community of 100 thousand estimated, many ex Malvinas islanders)and having a peace-prone culture, it s a shock to perceive british public opinion as an enemy. Now, we can hear and read all kind of solutions named Typhoon, Vanguard, etc.
    First at all, short-sighted. Costly for everybody, specially for islanders who will have to live in a conflict area for years on, with feelings of revenge everywhere, with a neighbour continent that

  • Sir Graphus

    Tell him if we have to fight a war there, we’ll take troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq to do it.

  • Jez

    Ok…. although this will be lost on this blog somewhere in the mainstream, here goes;

    (this is the simplified version- it needs to be so i can understand it)

    We have downgraded our Military capability save cost short term

    2. to become part of a Global police-force long term.

    The mainstream (this publication / web-site included) have signed up for gobalism / corporate expansionism / international free trade dogma……

    …. so in theory there is no need for a nation state Army / Navy / Airforce… because you can have several unique ships, a specailist niche supply of vehicles of one sort and a few planes of another- because the conflict / wars of the future would always be the ones like Afghanistan; to open natural resourc…. sorry- I mean ‘bring democracy’ etc, etc…. so it would always be a ‘coalition’ army (combination of several UN / US … maybe eventually PRC backed forces).

    It is yet another fail of our political elite.

    And now what do we do?

    Argentina kicks off, the Latin world unites behind them…. because they see themselves as the same- e.g. ‘Latin’- whereas we are told that we are ‘global citizens’ and not to do so would be racist, nationalistic and probably render that person uttering such blasphemy ruined at the hands of the Machine.

    The same Latin type solidarity you would also find in Africa and Asia.

    If there is a ‘blip’ in the overall globalisation plan e.g. a territorial dipute and the UK has to think / fight for itself, then we could have quite important issues to raise with ourselves on what exactly has been going on this past 40 years.

  • Olaf Rye

    Hmmm … did not the left in Britain oppose the Falklands War and insist that negotiation was best way forward ? I recall the chants of ‘One, Two, Three, Four, I hope Argentina wins the war’ being broadcast. Perhaps Argentina is counting on the lack of will and muddled thinking from Labour to win some symbolic victory.

    The US undoubtedly wants to keep the Latin American nations relatively well disposed to their policy objectives and will not get involved in this unless absolutely necessary. A pity, though, because Argentina has precious little case for sovereignty over the islands.

  • ndm

    — And of course, the UK can be annoyed because Washington calculates, not unreasonably, that in the end, Britain won’t do much to frustrate US objectives elsewhere whereas the Latin Americans will in areas of policy in which Britain has next to no interest or stake.

    Of course, were Britain to follow Harold Wilson’s lead and say a considered NO to more American requests for cover in its military adventurism then perhaps the US would be more respectful of Britain’s needs. Hopefully, the next British Prime Minister will be less willing to grab his ankles than was Tony Blair.

  • Beefeater

    The Munroe Doctrine might be in play. Always a convenient means to pretend to support the new world neighbours against old world machinations.

  • Carroll Barry-Walsh

    Let the US be neutral, then. But let’s bring our army home from Afghanistan so that they can be used to defend our interests. And if the Argentinians want to play silly games again, let’s say loudly that we will defend the islanders’ right to self-determination and we note that the US won’t stand up for such values. It’s about time we got off our knees and stopped grovelling to the US.

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