The lyrics of Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns captures the comedy of errors which the British establishment now finds itself in with regard to the Falklands. How could they have guessed that the man they had been waiting for, the person who they assumed would be so implicitly like them — their soulmate — would turn to be so different from what they imagined? UK pundits are still shock over the administration’s announcement that it will remain neutral in any dispute between Argentina and Britain over the Falklands. The London Times summarizes things succinctly:
Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London, Buenos Aires and at the UN.
Despite Britain’s close alliance with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the issue. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue.
As usual, the administration’s given reason for its actions is that “Bush did it”, only in this case it is “Ronald Reagan did it”, even though he didn’t. The Times continues:
Senior US officials insisted that Washington’s position on the Falklands was one of longstanding neutrality. This is in stark contrast to the public backing and vital intelligence offered by President Reagan to Margaret Thatcher once she had made the decision to recover the islands by force in 1982.
Amazingly the British believe that Obama is getting back at Gordon Brown for not keep keeping intelligence obtained during the Bush administration secret. The Daily Mail reports that “A senior MP and a respected foreign policy think-tank claimed Washington’s stance was ‘payback’ for the British courts ordering the disclosure of secret CIA files on Binyam Mohamed. … The papers detailed evidence showing MI5 knew that Mohamed, a British citizen, had been tortured by U.S. spies after he was detained in Pakistan in 2002.” Wikipedia describes his ordeal, at times in Mohamed’s words:
“It is now August 11. They have betrayed our trust (again). Hisham from Tunisia was savagely beaten in his interrogation and they publicly desecrated the Qur’an (again). Saad from Kuwait was ERF’d [visited by the Extreme Reaction Force] for refusing to go (again) to interrogation because the female interrogator had sexually humiliated him (again) for 5 hours. Therefore, the strike must begin again.” … In December 2005 the declassification of his lawyer’s notes permitted further claims of abusive interrogation to be made public. Mohamed’s further claims included that he was transported to a black site known as “the dark prison”, where captives were permanently chained to the wall, kept in constant darkness, and constantly bombarded with “The Real Slim Shady ” by Eminem for 20 days.
Daniel Hannan, a British politician who had supported Obama expressed his disappointment in the Telegraph, adding that while he could understand a mild resentment of Britain, he scarcely believe he was witnessing betrayal on this scale.
Look, Mr President, I was one of the few conservatives who truly wanted you to succeed. I didn’t mind the way you snubbed our PM: I mean, most of us feel the same way about him. I didn’t mind about the mildly anti-British passages in your book, or the boxed set of DVDs or the returning of the bust of Churchill. But this is different. This is serious. How would you feel if, the next time you found yourself at war with some tyrant, we were simply to issue a terse statement saying “our position remains one of neutrality”?
To pour oil on troubled waters — however inappropriate that metaphor might be in this instance — President Obama has dispatched Hillary Clinton to have a word with the Argentinian President after the Rio Group Summit in Mexico, after she meets with President Lula of Brazil. Lula said, “Our attitude is one of solidarity with Argentina. What is the geographical, political and economic explanation for England to be in the Malvinas?”
Even the left wing Guardian is aghast. “Obama should back our claim to the Falklands. The US president has yet to find his feet when dealing with international affairs.” His feet are right next to the gap where you throw things under the bus. Only the British can’t see things that way. Rather than simply accept that the Left in general completely misjudged him it’s easier to think he is still trying to find his bearings or that the One has a secret plan to ring down a happy ending. Writing in the Guardian Nick Cohen can’t help hoping against hope.
They couldn’t wait for Bush to leave and want Obama to succeed. Their officials in the FCO are urging them to regard the dispute with the department’s customary cynicism. Not only the US, but Brazil, Chile and other sensible social democratic states in South America are giving a hearing to Kirchner and Chavez’s anti-imperialist populism for form’s sake. If the dispute became serious, diplomats are certain that Obama would back Britain, and most Latin American governments would quietly applaud him.
I am sure they are right, but I am equally sure that Obama’s critics are not all wrong however much they overdo it. There will not be a second Falklands war this year because the Argentinians know we would defeat them. But if not over the Falklands then on some other crisis, Obama will have to make up his mind whether he wants to be a liberal president or to follow the worst rather than the best traditions of neoconservatism and hold that basic principles can always be sacrificed for the sake of a usually deluded view of the American national interest.
Still doesn’t get it, does he?
Don’t you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you’d want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.