Lest We Forget, Take 2: Neo-Cons, Falklands and Historical Revisionism

While this is not by any means the most egregious example, recent complaints by neo-conservatives about the Obama administration’s neutrality in the ongoing dispute between Argentina and Britain over the sovereignty of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands — now heating up over London’s recent launch of oil-drilling operations in the vicinity — offer yet one more illustration of their tendency to revise history when it suits their narrow political purposes.

Thus, the Weekly Standard’s snarky ‘Scrapbook’ this week (not available on the web without a subscription) argues that Obama’s position, as set out by the State Department last week, is of a piece with all kinds of other examples of “appeasement” his administration has practiced since coming to power.

“Since he was sworn into office last year, to world-wide acclaim, the 44th president of the United States has shown an astonishing predilection for cultivating our enemies (Iran, North Korea, Venezuela), appeasing the Putin regime in Russia, the People’s Republic of China, and the Assad kleptocracy in Syria, and throwing our friends and allies (Poland, the Czech Republic, Honduras, NATO, Israel, the G-8, India, Germany, Italy, etc.) under the bus, or giving them the back of his hand — choose your metaphor.

The latest example is the State Department’s pronouncement that the United States is strictly neutral on the question of British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. ‘We are aware not only of the current situation,’ says a Department spokesman, ‘but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality. The U.S. recognizes the de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.’

This not-so-rare instance of State Department bumptiousness is guaranteed not only to infuriate all sides in the British polity, but also to leave the inhabitants of the Falklands feeling a little nervous. After all, the ‘history’ to which State eludes is the 1982 invasion by the brutal Argentine junta, and the ‘current situation’ is the combination of threatening noises from Argentina’s latest ruler – the erratic leftist Cristina Kirchner — and her best buddy in the hemisphere, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. In The Scrapbook’s view, by pointedly refusing to support the British in this instance, the Obama administration is effectively siding with the unstable/hostile Kirchner regime and with Chavez.”[Emphasis Added]

“…Now that Kirchner and Chavez know that Barack Obama has washed his hands of this one, it is entirely possible that the Falklands war of 28 years ago could be repeated.”

Today, Victor Davis Hanson, by far the most tiresome of the National Review Online’s regular contributors, chimed in, insisting that

“Aside from the fact that the Falkland Islanders wish to remain British — and aside from our history of supporting Britain’s claim, including during the 1982 war — there are lots of reasons why our neutrality here is a bad idea.” [Emphasis Added]

He goes on, reciting the U.S.’ long-standing alliance with Britain, its “close linguistic, cultural, and historical affinities with the United States,” and, like The Scrapbook, recites of a list of allies whom the Obama administration has in one way or another betrayed.

First, it needs be said, the Obama’s administration’s position on the sovereignty of the Falklands/Malvinas Islands is exactly the same as that of neo-conservative hero Ronald Reagan. As stated clearly by then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig during a debate by the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) on May 26, 1982,

“The United States has not taken -and will not take – any position on the substance of the dispute. We are completely neutral on the question of who has sovereignty.”

So, VDH is quite simply wrong — and not for the first time — on his history (which should be somewhat embarrassing to a professional historian), and The Weekly Standard is wrong to imply that Obama has somehow changed Washington’s long-held policy on the sovereignty issue.

Second, The Standard’s characterization of the “brutal Argentine junta” that sought unsuccessfully to wrest the islands from the British is particularly ironic, given the neo-cons’ steadfast defense — indeed, cultivation — of precisely the same junta. It was Irving Kristol (father of Standard editor Bill) and Midge Decter, for example, who led the attack on the credibility of Jacobo Timerman, the newspaper publisher who emerged (largely as a result of the Carter administration’s hectoring) from 30 months of clandestine imprisonment in 1980 to tell of the torture he suffered and of the way in which Jewish prisoners were singled out for especially brutal treatment in his book, ‘Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number’, and in testimony before Congress here. (Timerman’s son, Hector, has been Argentina’s ambassador in Washington for that “unstable/hostile Kirchner regime” since 2007.)

For neo-cons of the time, notably UN Amb. Jeane Kirkpatrick, Michael Novak, and Elliott Abrams (Decter’s son-in-law) within the Reagan administration, Argentina was seen as the model “friendly authoritarian” (which had been unfairly victimized, in their view, by Carter’s hopelessly naive human rights policy) to be welcomed into the “Free World” in its monumental battle against the Soviet Union and its alleged “totalitarian” allies and clients, including the Sandinista government in Nicaragua against which the new Reagan administration eagerly enlisted veterans of the junta’s “dirty war” to train contras in Honduras. (Unfortunately, much of the neo-cons’ defense of the generals was waged on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and are thus unavailable on the net.)

Indeed, Kirkpatrick, the administration’s top neo-con whose startling rise to power was due in major part both to Kristol and Commentary’s Norman Podhoretz (Decter’s husband), was the single-most outspoken champion of the Argentine regime and strongly opposed Reagan’s decision to ultimately side with the British as a NATO ally in the war itself (though not on the question of Britain’s claims of sovereignty). As the New York Times reported after the war in June, 1982, about a heated meeting of Haig, Kirkpatrick and then-National Security Adviser William Clark:

“Mrs. Kirkpatrick’s basic complaint, officials said, is that Mr. Haig and his top advisers have no solid grounding in Latin American affairs, and have not properly taken note of Argentina’s historic claim to the Falklands.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick said Sunday in an interview that there has been ”a big debate” in the Government over whether to remain neutral between Argentina and Britain or to side with Britain.

‘I have leaned to the neutral side,’ she said. Mrs. Kirkpatrick has been a major supporter within the Administration of the policy of improving relations with Argentina after the severe strains of the Carter Administration.

On the day of the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, Mrs. Kirkpatrick was the guest of honor at a dinner at the Argentine Embassy in Washington, a dinner also attended by Deputy Secretary of State Walter J. Stoessel. She said that her going ahead with the dinner had been approved by the department, but the move was criticized by some columnists and members of Congress because it left the impression that Washington was uncritical of the Argentine moves.”

Indeed, so encouraged was the junta by the warmth and speed with which the neo-cons and other right-wingers in the Reagan administration had embraced it after taking office that it thought Washington would prevent — or at the very least discourage — London from going to war, according to a number of Argentine and U.S. analysts and officials at the time.

Finally, contrary to The Scrapbook’s musings about the environment in which Obama found himself as a junior at Columbia at the time of the 1982 war, “good leftists in those days” did not side “with the Argentine generals against Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.” Despite the efforts of Kristol, Decter, Kirkpatrick et. al., the junta’s egregious abuses, as well as its co-operation with the Reagan administration in building up the contras, were well known on the left and much despised. And while there was no great enthusiasm for Maggie Thatcher and the flotilla that came to reclaim British honor (and drilling rights) in the South Atlantic, there was certainly a great deal of satisfaction on the left with the generals’ humiliation and their departure from power the following year. The same could not be said about Kirkpatrick and the neo-cons of the time.

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.

10 Comments

  1. Jon, you position conflicts with the Monroe Doctrine. How did we allow the British to claim that Island ever. We could have sent the British packing if we had simply proclaimed such.

    Of course we don’t have a coherent strategy in South America. We supposedly oppose colonialism though we’ve never really let them enjoy self rule.

    What is happening in South America is very intriguing. The liberal movement there is exciting and a direct rejection of American hegemony. While we’re frittering away our power, influence and money in the Islamic world we are losing the controls on South America.

    Soon, the American empire will fall to those anti-colonial forces that justified our establishment. We can only get America back by withdrawing our tentacles that encircle the world.

  2. Is “2002” correct in this passage: “As the New York Times reported after the war in June, 2002?”

  3. Another excellent disentangling by Mr. Lobe.

    On the other hand, after Strauss, Neo-Cons are not “correctable” in any ordinary sense of the word, for lying through their teeth is not only second nature but a central part of their program.

    Most of the rest of the Right Wing does the same thing but it takes them more effort and they likely believe their own lies, many of them so contorted in their nonsense that psychological illness is the only explanation.

    The classic case is Reagan himself, who stood up before the world in all sincerity and said, “The U.S. will never be the first to use nuclear weapons.”

  4. Of course, the real kick is that the Obama administration certainly does support Britain in the dispute with Argentina, and we can surmise that this is one of the primary reasons for the establishment of SouthCom. Even assuming that Britain’s claim to the Falklands is credible, their use of this claim to also claim massive amounts of resources in the southern oceans is not remotely credible and can only sustained via equally massive force.

    It has recently been revealed that Thatcher was apparently prepared to nuke Argentina over the Falklands. We now understand why.

  5. While you are quite right in reminding us that the neocons of the day supported the Argentine junta (a power of the “future” in their view — shades of Anne Morrow Lindbergh!), the Haig statement was superseded shortly thereafter by the US throwing its support (including crucial intelligence asssets) behind the British effort to recapture the Falklands. Indeed, Haig’s tilt toward Argentina was one of the reasons he was ousted as Secy. of State shortly thereafter. The Right, except for some (or was it most?) of the neocons, was behind Thatcher and Britain.

    Be that as it may, you are also right to criticize the neocons of today for painting Obama as an appeaser on this issue. The only correct policy for the U.S. is to declare the question of sovereignty moot, while maintaining that only peaceful means can be used to settle the issue (which of course means Britain will keep the Falklands for the indefinite future).

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