Hillary's Falklands Provocation

by Alex Massie

Bagehot of the Economist is beginning to have some doubts about the Obama administration:

I have hesitated to read drastic slights into the sometimes awkward diplomacy between Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. But this stance on the Falklands cannot be seen any other way. It really is no way for the Americans to treat their most important military allyas some in America doubtless appreciate.

What stance? Well Hillary Clinton has been visiting Argentina and was asked about the status of the Falklands. Here's what she had to say:

And we agree [with Argentina]. We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way.

And:

[W]e want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. Now, we cannot make either one do so, but we think it is the right way to proceed. So we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place.

Until now, like Bagehot, I've resisted being anything other than mildly irritated by the American stance and, yes, you can argue that Clinton was merely humouring her hosts and saying the bare minimum that they wanted to hear. On the other hand, this is, as Bagehot puts it, an unwelcome "intervention" and a public declaration of the American position, not an off-the-record "we take no position" briefing from a desk officer in the State Department or at the UN.

Perhaps it shouldn't be a great surprise. Foggy Bottom has never been too keen on taking the British side on this issue, seeing, I suspect, the Falklands as an anachronistic relic of Empire. Be that as it may, the principle of self-determination has generally been something Washington has recognised and it's blindingly obvious that absent that recognition there really isn't very much to talk about when it comes to the Falklands.

So one hopes that Clinton was merely being polite, but her words carry weight and will increase a sense of expectation in Argentina (and more broadly across Latin America) that cannot possibly be met and that is guaranteed to infuriate the British. At best this is clumsy; at worst it's rather worse than that.

If me email is anything to go by - incidentally, that's alexmassieATgmail.com if you want to get in touch - the average Briton is likely to react to this sort of American intervention by suggesting that it's time to bring our boys home from Afghanistan and leave the Americans on their own.

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