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The New Falklands War

Why is the Obama administration siding with Argentina against Britain?

9:10 AM, Jan 30, 2012 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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In 1982, Argentina’s right wing military junta launched a sudden invasion of the Falkland Islands, the South Atlantic archipelago that has been a British possession since 1833. The invasion was motivated by a desire to distract attention from the country’s severe economic woes, including hyperinflation and massive capital flight. We all know what happened next: Margaret Thatcher dispatched troops to retake the islands by force; the subsequent British victory boosted her popularity at home while further weakening the Argentina junta; and by the end of 1983, constitutional democracy had been restored in Buenos Aires.


Ever since then, however, democratically elected Argentina governments have periodically played the Falklands card to drum up domestic support and enhance their diplomatic standing in Latin America. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the war, and, not surprisingly, President Cristina Kirchner is once again bullying the islanders, with the help of neighboring countries. In December, the Hugo Chávez–inspired Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) voted unanimously to endorse “Argentina’s legitimate rights in the sovereignty dispute over the Falklands/Malvinas.” (The islands are known as the “Malvinas” in Argentina.) A few weeks after the CELAC summit, the Mercosur trade group—which consists of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—formally agreed to embrace “all measures that can be put in place to impede the entry to its ports of ships that fly the illegal flag of the Malvinas Islands.”

As if Buenos Aires needed more encouragement to rattle sabers, the Obama administration provided it on January 20, when a State Department official was asked about the Falklands dispute. “This is a bilateral issue that needs to be worked out directly between the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom,” the official said. “We encourage both parties to resolve their differences through dialogue in normal diplomatic channels. We recognize de facto United Kingdom administration of the islands but take no position regarding sovereignty.”

From a British perspective, these comments were deeply disappointing, but not altogether surprising, given Obama’s history on the issue. From an Argentine perspective, the comments represented a major diplomatic triumph. “The fact that the United States government does not recognize the British allegation of sovereignty on the islands show[s] that it is necessary that the United Kingdom should sit at the negotiation table with our country, to open a bilateral dialogue,” declared Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman. “We are sure that all Latin America views with satisfaction the stand taken by the United States on Malvinas.”

(Timerman, incidentally, is the same man who accused the United States of operating torture schools, who helped provoke a crisis in U.S.-Argentine relations over a routine military-training exercise, and who reportedly offered to suspend the investigations of two Iranian-backed terrorist bombings in return for economic concessions from Tehran.) 

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