One thing that is becoming increasingly clear is that Hillary Clinton should not speak on contentious issues, as she seems to have no knack for handling them without creating a larger problem than the one she found. We saw this with her clumsy handling of administration policy on Israeli settlements. Granted, she had to balance a half-hearted policy the administration never really believed in with the need not to offend her Israeli hosts, but that’s why it is important to have a Secretary of State capable of striking the right balance. We don’t have one.
We saw another mistake in her handling of Honduras’ provisional government and the desperate, failed bid to restore Zelaya, and we saw it yet again in her ridiculous threat that China would face “diplomatic isolation” if it did not get on board with Iran sanctions. One or two blunders might be overlooked and forgiven, but we are seeing a pattern of mistakes, the latest of which is this Falklands gaffe. Instead of simply remaining non-commital and restating U.S. neutrality, which is a perfectly legitimate and defensible position to take, Clinton felt the need to say this:
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.
This might be a way to settle the dispute, but if it is none of our business whose islands they are it is also none of our business how they handle their dispute over the islands. Non-interference and neutrality mean that the U.S. does not involve itself in the issue. Unless both parties specifically asked for U.S. mediation, we should say nothing. Some people in Britain were already angry about U.S. neutrality, and that’s their prerogative, but until now the administration could defend its position and point out that U.S. neutrality works in favor of the status quo power. Once Clinton starts urging both parties to negotiate over something one party regards as non-negotiable, that defense is no longer credible. At that point Washington has begun to align itself with Argentinian objectives and against British claims.
In my earlier post I compared the handling of the dispute to Obama’s earlier mishandling of Kashmir, which he later corrected. In that case, Obama started at a position of proposing U.S. mediation in a dispute that India wanted to keep as a bilateral issue. The backlash from India made Obama realize that this was futile, and he gave up on this idea. In the case of the Falklands, the administration began with a position of neutrality and has started moving towards a position that the British can reasonably interpret as a pro-Argentinian one. This has needlessly antagonized our British allies, it will change nothing in the dispute of the Falklands in any case, and it has reinforced the perfectly justified impression in Britain that it receives absolutely nothing for its reliable support for U.S. initiatives around the world.