Daniel Freedman: Will Obama Support Prince William in a War with Argentina?
November 17, 2010
By Daniel Freedman
President Barack Obama may have upset many Brits when he entered the White House by unceremoniously kicking Winston Churchill’s bust out of the Oval Office, but a real test of how he views the “special relationship” may come in the near future. That test is whether he’d support Britain in a war against Argentina over the Falkland Islands.
The last time the two countries went to war over the British-controlled islands (located some 460 kilometers off the coast of Argentina) was in 1982. After Argentina (ruled by a military junta) invaded – emboldened by proposed U.K. military defense cuts – British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded with decisive military force and beat them back. The islanders (who had been ruled by Britain since 1833 and wanted to remain that way) cheered the return of British troops.
According to a group of former top British admirals, war is once again likely. This is because of the U.K. government’s decision – as part of an austerity budget – to scrap the country’s only aircraft carrier along with its entire fleet of 80 Harrier jets (along with other defense cuts). In a letter to the editor of The Times of London, the admirals described the decision as “strategically and financially perverse,” and wrote that “Argentina is practically invited to attempt to inflict on us a national humiliation … one from which British prestige, let alone the administration in power at the time, might never recover.”
One of the participants in the 1982 war was Britain’s Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. He served as a Sea King helicopter pilot on the ship Invincible and actually came under Argentinean fire – the first Royal to come under fire in more than 200 years. His nephew, the newly engaged Prince William (to Kate Middleton) is in the Royal Air Force (RAF), and in theory could go to war as well, although it’s unlikely that the military will risk sending the second-in-line to the British throne to war. Either way his heart will be with his troops.
While war between Britain and Argentina may seem unlikely today, it also seemed unlikely in 1982. Back then the military junta saw seizing the Falklands as a way to boost domestic popularity. Today the Argentinean president, Cristina Kirchner, needs a boost as she’s in a weakened position following the recent death of her husband (and mentor) Nestor. And the recent discovery of oil off the coast of the islands makes a seizure economically appealing as well.
If Argentina does invade, it would be difficult for Britain to respond as it has in the past. Analyzing Britain’s defense cuts in the Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute wrote: “In 1982, the flotilla that was sent to recapture the Falklands consisted of two aircraft carriers, 8 destroyers, 15 frigates and 6 attack submarines. Today, there would be no air cover, for lack of an aircraft carrier, and the whole fleet would have to be utilized to deploy a similar force. And with most of Britain’s combat effective ground forces engaged in or returning from Afghanistan, it would be a stretch, if not impossible, to muster the 7,000 elite troops needed to duplicate that earlier campaign.”
The big question then is whether the U.K. could rely on the U.S. for backup. During the first Falklands War, Prime Minister Thatcher was dismayed when her good friend, President Ronald Reagan, tried to discourage her from countering the Argentinean invasion. Many in the U.S. administration, especially the ambassador to the U.N., Jeane Kirkpatrick, feared that an Argentinean defeat would strengthen left-wing regimes in the region.
During a secret phone conversation (revealed a decade later) Britain’s Iron Lady warned the president against expecting a passive Britain. “I wonder if anyone over there realizes, I’d like to ask them. Just supposing Alaska was invaded …” she told him. “No, no,” he responded, “although, Margaret, I have to say I don’t quite think Alaska is a similar situation.” “More or less so,” she snapped back.
Prime Minister Thatcher went on to tell him that “I didn’t lose some of my best ships and some of my finest lives, to leave quietly under a ceasefire without the Argentines withdrawing.” President Reagan realized that true to form, the Lady was not for turning. He alluded to this exchange in his autobiography, An American Life, writing: “She told me too many lives had already been lost for Britain to withdraw without total victory, and she convinced me. I understood what she meant.”
The relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron is not the same as the Reagan-Thatcher relationship. A former U.S. diplomat who was involved in the 1982 deliberations told me that he expects that this time the U.S. will simply condemn an Argentinean invasion. He believes the U.S. will not provide any military support but will instead tell Britain to turn to the United Nations. The U.N. would do little, and Argentina would rule the Falklands.
When asked how the British defense cuts would affect America, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded: “We are reassured that the U.K. conducted its review in a thoughtful and clear-eyed manner, and that the result will be a U.K. military capable of meeting its NATO commitments and of remaining the most capable partner for our forces as we seek to mitigate the shared threats of the 21st Century.”
Britain has proved itself to be the most capable of partners. Since 9/11 British soldiers have fought (and died) alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan and in Iraq. If Argentina does invade the Falklands, Britain’s leaders had better hope that the Obama administration realizes that a partnership is a two-way relationship.
To read the full article please click on the link below:http://blogs.forbes.com/danielfreedman/2010/11/17/will-obama-support-prince-william-in-a-war-with-argentina/
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