Against ‘Special’ Relationships

Here it comes again, the Falklands Question: one of those eternal foreign policy problems that seem to have no logical or just solution. What’s surprising is that the Obama administration is taking the right position, for once, and staying well out of it. This drives our Anglophiles, of whom there are quite a few on the neocon right – the Churchill cult and all that – absolutely wild, and the Brits, too. Why, when British troops are fighting side by side with Americans in Afghanistan, won’t the US stand by the Anglo-American “special relationship” and help preserve the pathetic remnants of the once-proud British empire?  

The reason is that there is no conceivable US interest in the fate of the Malvinas, as the Argentines insist on calling these dreary little atolls, most of which are uninhabited. As Alex Cockburn once described it, the sky over the Falklands is normally “the color of a mud-stained sheep,” and the main island which hosts the “city” of Stanley boasts less than two thousand year-round inhabitants. So what’s the big deal, anyway – why is this ancient dispute arising right at this moment? 

In a word: oil. The British have begun drilling for oil off the Falklands and the Argentines are in a rage over it. The Obama administration, for its part, is calling for international mediation, presumably through the UN – and no doubt putting pressure on the Argentines in private to tone it down. Yet Hillary Clinton had to be practically dragged to Buenos Aires on her recent Latin American foray, and tensions between the leftist government of Cristina de Kirchner and the Obama administration are somewhat strained. It’s impossible to imagine the Obama administration is going to let its relations with London go down the tubes on account of commitment to some abstract principle, such as, say, opposition to colonialism.  

That, starkly put, is the issue here. For there is no legal basis for British suzerainty, as “The Historical Claims to the Falklands” [.pdf] by Murray Rothbard makes clear. The British simply conquered the islands, with the invaluable assistance of a rogue American sea captain: whatever rights they claim are derived from the “principle” of might-makes-right.  

Okay, but what about the Falklanders themselves, who clearly want to be citizens of Britain, and reject Argentina’s claims? Don’t they have a right to be a British colony if they so choose? Again, Rothbard provides us with the answer

“No, dammit. For why should the British taxpayer be forced to pay for this nonsense, for the maintenance of this godawful rock, for the fleet and the munitions to go to war to defend it, etc? The fact that the Falklanders want to be British does not suffice; for why should the British, 8000 miles away, be stuck with the welfare-imperialism of supporting and defending them?” 

It’s unlikely in the extreme there will be any military action this time around, although an incident involving Argentine and British naval craft may be in the making. The issue, however, underscores the degree to which the legacy of colonialism continues to rankle the South Americans, who ought to be naturally pro-American but aren’t. The reason they aren’t is due to our endless intervention in their affairs, which continues right up to the present day. Under cover of the “war on drugs,” we throw our weight around down there with nary a thought as to the possible blowback. We’ve even managed to piss off Brazil — not part of the anti-American/Chavista bloc of Latin American nations — which is resisting US plans to enforce international economic sanctions against Iran. 

Whenever a country claims to have a “special relationship” with the US, and makes a point of emphasizing this “special-ness,” Americans should secure their wallets and prepare for the worst.  

There are only two nations that make such an unlimited claim on our allegiance, and our unconditional support for both of them down through the years has brought us nothing but endless trouble: I’m talking, of course, about Israel and the Brits. Partisans of the former played an instrumental role in fomenting the Iraq war — and the confrontation with Iran that’s on the horizon – and partisans of the latter dragged us into two world wars, and a number of minor ones.  

Our answer to our British cousins who whine that we’re not doing enough to preserve their tatterdemalion empire must be: To heck with the “special relationship”! Let’s end all such relations, which, after all, go against the advice of our first chief executive, who, in his Farewell Address, had this to say: 

“A passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists,and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate,in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.” 

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].