WARTIME LOYALTIES....Chris Bertram has a terrific post today about wartime loyalties. The bottom line? During the Falklands War America's support was tepid at best, while in many ways "Mitterrand and the French were our greatest allies."
Our petulant demands that everyone support our wars wholeheartedly would be a little more credible if we were willing to do the same for our allies. But we aren't, are we?
OK, following the links takes me to Junius, who has this on offer:
[Begin Excerpt] So, the Americans gave every assistance to the United Nations and every other mediator - Brazilian, Mexican and the rest - to bring about a negotiated settlement, on terms which would have been seen as a surrender in the United Kingdom. Then, in the closing stages of the conflict, when we had already lost many ships and men, they leant heavily on us - aided by telephone calls from Reagan to Thatcher - to find some way of saving Galtieri's face. "Magnanimity before victory" became their watch-phrase.
In many ways, Mitterrand and the French were our greatest allies. They had supplied the Argentines with Mirage and Super Etendard aircraft in the earlier years; but, as soon as the conflict began, Mitterrand's defence minister got in touch with me to make some of these available so that our Harrier pilots could train against them before setting off for the South Atlantic. The French also supplied us with detailed technical information on the Exocet, showing us how to tamper with the missiles. " [End Excerpt]
Hmm, I don't quite remember it that way. And, continuing to follow the links, I see that the former British Defence Minister Sir John Nott also said this:
Margaret Thatcher had, I believe, made up her mind at the outset that the only way we could regain our national honour and prestige was by inflicting a military defeat on Argentina. [Note: from reading the full piece, the Minister clearly did not, at least initially, share this view] But this did not prevent the painful and endless negotiations for a diplomatic settlement - led by Al Haig, the American Secretary of State.
These negotiations not only produced personal clashes within the Cabinet but also strained Britain's relationship with the United States. At least they filled a horrible vacuum while the task force made its long, long voyage towards Antarctica.
The issue of America's involvement in the crisis is a crucial one. Certain Americans, of course, such as Casper Weinberger, the US Defence Secretary, were splendid from the outset.
But the State Department, at this time, was dominated by Latinos who saw President Reagan's Latin American policy going down the drain....
It took weeks of determined diplomacy by Sir Nicholas Henderson, our ambassador in Washington, before the White House was prepared to declare itself on the side of the British. Moreover, it did so, I suspect, only because Congress and American public opinion had come down heavily on our side. By doing so, it destroyed the support of the South American dictators for Reagan's anti-communist crusade in Central America.
As the Falklands conflict developed, America stopped arms sales to Argentina, but was unwilling to take more effective economic measures. Nicholas Henderson reported that the Americans were not prepared to "tilt" too heavily against Argentina; to do so, they said, would deprive them of their influence in Buenos Aires.
They did not want the Argentine dictator General Leopoldi Galtieri to fall - whereas we saw him as an outright fascist and aggressor. For the Americans, he was a central pillar of resistance to communism in South and Central America - and all the efforts of Reagan and the State Department were concentrated on the crisis in El Salvador.
The United States, it seemed, did not wish to choose between Britain and their interests in Latin America. Indeed, apart from Weinberger and the Pentagon, the Americans were very, very far from being on our side.
If Washington had been in the hands of the East Coast Wasps (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) instead of the West Coast Americans, with their overriding concern for the Americas, things might have been different.
But the State Department, the White House security staff and the president himself were, privately, never wholly committed to our cause. For all Margaret Thatcher's friendship with Ronald Reagan, he remained a West Coast American looking south to Latin America and west to the Pacific. Sometimes, I wondered if he even knew or cared where Europe was.
Emphasis added. And I suspect that, by the end of the 80's, even Sir John may have had some confidence that Reagan could find Europe on a map, since so much of it was newly-liberated.
Now, as part of the public, I remember public opinion being strongly pro-British, in contrast with the prevailing sentiment in Britain or France today with respect to America. In fact, I recall one of the classic Newsweek covers showing a photo of the British fleet with the headline "The Empire Strikes Back".
I also can pitch in this review of the John Nott's book by this Tory backbencher, link provided from an old Nielsen Hayden blog. This fellow was also surprised by how limited the US assistance was, and how obstructive our State Department was.
Many Britons point to the Falklands war as an example of how, when the chip are down, the Americans can be counted on to help Britain. It is certainly true that Britain would have found it much harder to re-conquer the Falklands without American intelligence. Yet it is often forgotten that for a month after the Argentine invasion of March 2 , 1982, while a diplomatic solution seemed possible, American help was limited.
During that month, according to a former British DIS officer, America did no pass on high-quality satellite photos. "The Americans said there were 'technical' problems with the satellites, during Al Haig's shuttle diplomacy, " recalls the officer. General Haig tried to negotiate a compromise package that would have allowed the Argentines to withdraw in a face-saving manner. "The US gave us the good photos only after Argentina rejected Haig's compromise. If Argentina had accepted that compromise, and Britain had rejected it, I doubt the Americans would have wanted to help us. In the final analysis they will always do what is good for the US - and therein lies the core of the UK's problem."
This article says good things about French help for the Brits during the Falklands, as well.
So, my point - we were not nearly as unreliable an ally as that excerpt, or the full article, makes us appear. The Brits had problems with the US State Department? Gee whiz, our own Pentagon has problems with the State Department, which has only recently swung to a hawkish stance on Iraq, if we believe Powell's late conversion. The idea that US diplomats would defer to British admirals in an affair involving South America seems hopelessly over-optimistic, and Sir John himself seems to have been initially skeptical about the military option. Yet, at crunch time, we seem to have made ourselves useful, and public support for the British was unquestioned.