MEP and internet superstar, Daniel Hannan is up in arms at what he sees Barack Obama sucking up to ‘Peronist Argentina’ on the Falklands.
“When matters last came to a head,” he writes, “Ronald Reagan had no difficulty backing Margaret Thatcher: the Gipper knew who America’s friends were.”
Of course, it wasn’t nearly as simple as that, as I am sure Hannan (a huge Thatcher fan) knows well. Michael Moynihan (no foe of Hannan’s, by the way) sets the record straight:
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… 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 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.
Hannan’s fudging gives me a chance to plug James Rentschler’s superb Falklands diary. Rentschler was the Reagan official who ended up responsible for US policy on the islands after Argentina invaded. He was nonplussed by the task:
Never heard of [the Falklands], right? Me neither at least not until last evening when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent an urgent message through the Cabinet Line requesting the President to intercede with the Argies. 1800 British-origin sheepherders, pursuing a peaceful life on some wind-blown specks of rock in the South Atlantic, now targeted by Argentine amphibious assault units – who, in turn, may soon be attacked by the largest naval armada ever to steam out of British ports since Suez? Yes indeed, the thing certainly does sound like Gilbert and Sullivan as told to Anthony Trollope by Alistair Cooke. But what started out as comic opera now looks to become not only quite serious, but exceptionally nasty. The Argentines have clearly misjudged the British temper, and this guy Galtieri, speaking first in broken mafioso-type English before the State Department interpreter tactfully intervenes, sounds like a thug. Continue reading