A cost of the Iraq distraction is the tendency of the United States to look beyond the closest of horizons for problems to solve. Politicians and commentators who support ineffective war on terror policies frame themselves as an “engaged” in the world and their critics as “isolationist”. The Malvinas/Falklands dispute between Argentina and Britain makes this point quite clearly.
I was relieved in listening to Argentines talking about the Malvinas or Falkland Islands. While the Malvinas remain a strong nationalist issue, there is a broad recognition that a renewed war would be both impractical and immoral. After the 1980s Argentina has disarmed to the point that it might have trouble repelling an attack on the capital. It certainly is not capable of launching a combined arms amphibious assault in the South Atlantic opposed by Falklands’ based British military units.
The Argentines I spoke with were not sympathetic to the Falklanders’ self-determination, but they did see clearly the immorality of asking young Argentines to die retaking the islands. The sense of sadness over the losses in 1982 was pervasive. And it is the combination of strong national pride and relative weakness that should open the way to talks between Britain and Argentina.
Talks that the United States could assist much more easily than successfully accomplishing nation building in the Middle East. Working with the United States closest ally, Britain, and a major emerging democracy in South America with vast natural resources and a growing middle class to resolve the Malvinas/Falklands dispute is an enormous opportunity. Any negotiated solution would have to involve some sort of staged change in sovereignty over a long period of time. Perhaps a long term lease with cultural guarantees such as China’s lease to Britain of Hong Kong or the gradual political process in Northern Ireland.
Unlike the hopeless morass of Middle Eastern policies, the United States has direct influence on both countries without writing a check or deploying the military. Argentines I spoke with were bewildered at the quickness of the US even after Iraq to resort to military means to resolve conflict. A reaction I have encountered around the world. But they still retained a broad respect for the United States. We have a chance explaining to the Argentine government that cutting off sea and air links to the islands, blacklisting Falkland flagged ships, and other anti-Falkland measures, will only stiffen the resistance of the Falklanders and the British. These are the descendants of “we will fight on the beaches …”
At the same time we can help the British place the islands on a path to peaceful prosperity beyond a huge endless British military effort in the South Atlantic. Do the British really want to meet any future Argentine rearmament by building new aircraft carriers? Will Britain’s economy always be able to match Argentina’s economy to support an arms race?
US brokered or assisted talks would earn the United States enormous goodwill throughout Latin America and counter the Chavez/Castro propaganda that the US is only interesting in controlling Latin America for its own ends. And successful talks would help strengthen the US/British alliance. The British Army, the Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force would no longer have a distant distraction dominating their planning and budget. And while it is a difficult problem, unlike our Middle Eastern policies, it is possible and actually matters here in the Americas.
Why not help two stable democracies for a change? President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush. Teddy Roosevelt mediated the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 to earn his Nobel Peace Prize. While it may not be our most recent history, it used to be that US solved problems overseas without relying on guns and dollars. We should not lose sight of the possibilities and blessings of being a peacemaker.