Coming from the UK I have been baffled by the theories some Americans have towards Obama’s relationship with the UK. There are those who believe that Obama’s returning of the Churchill bust and the cringe-worthy gift exchanges with the Queen and Gordon Brown betray a resentment of the British that commentators like Dinesh D’Souza have suggested originates from the experiences of his father in Kenya. I have been skeptical of theories that claim Obama has any outright resentment towards the British, but it is certainly true that the relationship is different under Obama, and these differences can be seen most clearly in Obama’s handling of the Falklands dispute.
During his trip to South America Obama gave a speech in which he mistakenly called Las Malvinas (the Argentine name for the Falklands) the Maldives, a collection of islands in the Indian Ocean that were a British protectorate until the 60s. Anyone can make an innocent slip of the tongue, and indeed one of the good aspects of Obama’s presidency has been his ability to speak without fear of a Bush-like gaffe. However, what is curious is that Obama decided to refer to the Falklands as Las Malvinas in the first place.
I am sure that the audience was something to do with the choice of words. Latin America has been incredibly hostile to the current status of the Falkland Islands, with many going so far to ban Falkand ships from their ports. Yet, this is hardly encouraging from a British perspective.
Obama and his administration have frustrated the British on this issue by shifting from neutrality (already a worrying position for the U.S. to take from a British perspective) to encouraging negotiation between Argentina and the UK on the status and the Falkland Islands. Indeed, a 2010 press conference that dealt with the Falklands with President Kirchner and Secretary Clinton was interpreted by some in Britain as a slap in the face. The British have repeatedly said that the sovereignty of the Falklands is non-negotiable, and it is hardly encouraging that one of the UK’s closest allies seems to be unable to definitively stand with its ally against a Peronist regime.
Thankfully, the U.S. and Canada both vetoed a submission from Mrs. Kirchner for the summit’s final document that would have included a declaration of support for Argentina’s claim over the Falklands.
I do not wish the U.S. to get involved in whatever dispute that might emerge between the UK and Argentina. It is very unlikely the Argentineans would attempt another military invasion. What is more likely is that Argentina and other Latin American countries will continue to exert economic pressure on the isolated islands. The U.S. could stand with her traditional ally against politically motivated economic sanctions without committing itself to anything further. A show of support might well be enough to dampen Argentinean fervor.
While the exact status of the “special relationship” will be debated for some time, what is not in doubt is how less than enthused some of America’s allies feel under the Obama administration. The U.S. does not need to make any economic or military commitments in order to show solidarity with an isolated, democratic, and sovereign people.
Image: Aleksandar Mijatovic