The island chain 300 miles off the coast of Argentina has two names. The United Kingdom, which controls them as a protectorate, and the rest of the world call those islands the Falklands. Argentina calls them the Malvinas. Argentina has never owned the islands. Islanders are 90% British, descendants of the original settlers, and support their relationship with the UK. The UK has controlled the Falklands since 1830, and fought a war over them against Argentina in 1982 to keep them.
But that didn’t stop President Barack Obama from attempting to use the Argentinian name for the islands. And he even got that badly wrong.
President Obama erred during a speech at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, when attempting to call the disputed archipelago by its Spanish name.
Instead of saying Malvinas, however, Mr Obama referred to the islands as the Maldives, a group of 26 atolls off that lie off the South coast of India.
It takes someone with a very limited understanding of geography to confuse the Maldives, a sovereign country near India, with the Malvinas, a political name attached to islands that are actually called the Falklands. For starters, the two island chains are in different oceans, more than 8,000 miles apart. The Falklands are in the south Atlantic; Maldives are in the Indian Ocean.
Of more importance, though, is Obama’s decision to wade into a sensitive issue between two of our allies in this way. The Falklands war was 30 years ago this month. The Argentine government has been ratcheting up anti-British rhetoric, demanding that the UK hand “Las Malvinas” over, and threatening to invade again. In his summit speech Obama claimed that the US is neutral, which was our official stance during the 1982 war and is now, but attempting to use the name “Malvinas,” and then bungling that, can be taken to suggest that he isn’t so neutral and would side with Argentina against the British.
The Telegraph calls this an “uncharacteristic” error, but this isn’t the first time Barack Obama has betrayed his geographical ignorance and political boneheadedness. In a recent speech in Hawaii, the president thought he was in Asia despite being born in Hawaii. Hawaii, a volcanic island chain 4,000 miles east of Asia, is not part of Asia or any other continent. In November 2011, Obama said that he was disturbed when Iranians stormed the “English embassy” in Tehran, which was actually the British embassy. England is one of four nations, along with Scotland, and Wales, plus Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom. Calling it the “British embassy” would have been accurate; calling it the “English embassy” was not.
Besides all of that, Obama made the “Maldives” remark at the Summit of the Americas, a summit which has been full of outrages, errors and scandal. In this summit we’ve had the Secret Service call girl scandal and pics of our secretary of state boozing it up have hit the web. The error was by no means “uncharacteristic.”
The Falklands gaffe is the most significant, though. In the mixed signals and inattention it betrays on the part of the President of the United States, it could lead to another war.
Update: In another “uncharacteristic” gaffe, in 2009 Barack Obama invented a language: “Austrian.” There is an Austrian school of economics, but the Austrian people speak German. I suppose we should be thankful that he didn’t confuse them with Australians.