Last week, the United States once again became involved in an imbroglio between the United Kingdom and Argentina. However, the U.S. is taking a different tack today than during the 1982 clash, which happened under the watch of the Reagan and Thatcher—and during the heyday of the “Special Relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K.
Last week, Secretary Clinton articulated a position of neutrality and expressed her willingness to mediate this dispute, in which Argentine President Christina Kirchner is challenging the United Kingdom’s sovereign claim to the Falkland Islands.
As an organization whose purpose is to ensure the continued vitality of the “Special Relationship” between the U.K. and U.S.A., the Atlantic Bridge regularly monitors the American popular pulse. The popular will in America—as opposed to the political—seemingly favors something more than neutrality. As of February our internal polling shows that 74% of Americans understand and appreciate the special relationship and its reciprocal responsibilities. When asked which single country they would most expect to support the United States in a crisis, 60% of Americans chose Britain. Americans do not feel comfortable sitting on the fence.
The United Kingdom’s punditocracy is mistakenly interpreting the Obama Administration’s “neutrality” as the death knell of the Special Relationship. Matthew Parris of The Times, for example, wrote a piece in which he concludes that the U.S. is “just not that into” the U.K. and probably never has been. A more accurate interpretation of the administration’s position is that American neutrality favors the U.K. in this row and not the Argentines or their leading sponsor, Hugo Chavez.
By remaining “neutral” Obama has giving the British tacit license to do what needs to be done to protect their national interests, in the process giving the Argentine’s a second chance at true economic and political liberalization.
Critics need only take a closer look at history to be reminded that the Special Relationship is made of sterner stuff.
Back in the spring of 1982 it was by no means clear that the United States would support the British government in a dispute over what Reagan initially dismissed as “that ice-cold bunch of land down there.” In fact, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, President Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, went so far as to recommend that the U.S. side with Argentina. Reagan ultimately sided with Secretary of Defense Weinberger and Secretary of State Haig, who favored offering the U.K. vital intelligence and weapons.
Today — during the tenure of a Noble Peace Prize winning President who sent back the British gift of a bust of Winston Churchill in order to make a point about imperialism — American “neutrality,” in a case where the British are more than capable of defending their own national interests, is not a setback.
A key aspect of the U.S.-U.K. relationship is that it does not require lock step unanimity. Despite the Falklands and some other recent hiccups such as the release of the Lockerbie terrorist, the Special Relationship is working where it vitally matters.
Case in point; Joint U.S.-U.K. efforts in Afghanistan, where British troops are fighting shoulder to shoulder with American Marines and their Afghan allies. In Marja for instance, American and British troops are together implementing General McChrystal’s ambitious new strategy with the goal of building a viable Afghan government that can keep the Taliban out after the fighting is over.
It’s a good thing that the two nations are working together so seamlessly. Nothing less than the future of Western democracy is at stake. Our common conflict is being waged in Afghanistan and other fronts against an enemy that is motivated by religious fervor, does not rest, recognizes no national boundaries, and wants to destroy us simply for the values we hold dear.
The Obama government’s position on the Falklands might not be an ideal recognition of Britain’s sovereign rights. But the Special Relationship was born out of a time, not unlike today, when our nations stood shoulder to shoulder against the threat of global tyranny.
Yes, there is room for the administration to make improvements. Nonetheless, there remains vigorous cooperation between the U.S. and U.K. in the name of our mutual defense.