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.

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.



  1. The Falklands became British when we were still a British colony, my friend. No conflict with the Monroe Doctrine, under which we forbade European nations to make NEW inroads in the Western Hemisphere. Do consult President Monroe’s message of Dec. 2, 1823.

  2. There is another big hole in the Weekly Standard’s argument which is its dreadful (and probably willful) ignorance of the current political situation in Argentina. The language used is totally inappropriate. There is nothing “hostile” about the current Argentine government unless “hostile” is meant to imply that Buenos Aires does not take orders from Washington. The word “regime” conjures up images of a dictatorship. In fact Kirchner’s Partido Justicialista (the Peronists) lost its majority in congress very peacefully in last summer’s elections. Some “regime”! Words like “erratic” and “unstable” are used to describe Kirchner, implying somehow that a dangerous woman is at the helm and therefore anything could happen including war. This ignores the present government’s repeated commitment to a diplomatic solution to the problem of the Malvinas. Moreover, both Nestor and Cristina Kirchner have an anti-military pedigree dating back their Montenero days. Indeed, Argentina has to all intents and purposes been effectively disarmed. I live in Buenos Aires and I can tell you that people are far more preoccupied with the cost of living and crime. The Malvinas figures extremely low on Argentina’s list of priorities. The idea that Britain and Argentina may soon be at war again is 1st class neo-con nonsense.

  3. John, we used to Monroe Doctrine to justify the Spanish American War and many of our other activities that never got called wars, specifically the Panamanian separation from Columbia and then splintering off Venezuela as well.

    The Monroe Doctrine was the very appeal that drove Europe out of South America. And was used extensively years after James Monroe had left this earth.

  4. You need to learn your history a bit better. The Latin American rebels, not the Monroe Doctrine, drove the Spanish from South America. When issued, the Monroe Doctrine was aimed at preventing the Holy Alliance from intervening on Spain’s behalf. It was a great bluff on our part, made possible by the Holy Alliance’s unwillingness/inability to mount an expedition across the Atlantic.

    The British, French, Dutch and even the Danes retained colonial territories in the Western Hemisphere right into the 20th century, with no attempt by the US to oust them. Your original point was that Britain’s possession of the Falkalnds somehow violated the Monroe Doctrine. It did (and does) not, anymore than Britain’s possession of Canada did.

  5. Smedley Butler would suggest that my reading of history is spot on. I am talking about late 19th/early 20th Century exercises, Teddy Roosevelt Roughriders, and our activities in Central America and much of Northern South America.

    I dare say a good history of that region vis a vis American intervention overt and covert hasn’t been written or at least widely taught.

    I don’t deny that the Monroe Doctrine was pick up and wielded willy-nilly. But the Canadian/British separation was long since finished when the Falklands episode erupted.

    My only point is that Ronnie could have told Maggie to heel if he had wanted to. He could have pointed to the Monroe doctrine if he wanted to. I imagine that Bush and others counseled that brown people need to know who’s boss occasionally. I can’t remember, did our own noble and virtuous assault on that looming Granada happen before or after. Thank God that threat was averted. Not to mention Bush’s Christmas miracle midnight attack on Panama. Noriega the drug running grinch was sacked and we were able to have a white Christmas.

    If we had wished to oppose the British take-over of the Falklands we could have. The neo-cons enjoy their place at the root of our religious tradition. They’ve used our myths to twist our actions to their liking.

    They might have been in hoc with the Argentinians but those Jews forgot that blood is thicker than faith. The US and Britain are closer than any special alliance. It’s racism v. racism.

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