Ben Pickering is a Senior Board Member of Conservative Way Forward and a public affairs head-hunter for Hanson Search.
It is not often that I agree with Nick Clegg, but his Chatham House speech this week (as reported in Thursday’s Independent) is spot on.
Like Clegg claims to be, I too am an Atlanticist (significantly more so than he). I believe that when Britain and America can be on the same page we should be, and with our broadly shared world view this is more often than not the case.
But the undermining American response to the latest Falklands crisis – with Hillary Clinton and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner having a rip-roaring time during Clinton’s recent trip to The Pink House (yes the Presidential Palace really is called that!) in Buenos Aires – makes me feel increasingly uneasy about the future of the so-called “special relationship”. This month’s Newsweek paints the Argentine President as the Iron Lady of this new Falklands War, winning the battle for world opinion against a lame duck British Government with no plausible narrative on this issue.
In the Telegraph earlier this month, Toby Young highlighted President Obama’s ambivalence in approving a US State Department statement claiming:
“We are aware not only of the current situation but also of the history, but our position remains one of neutrality. The US recognises de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.”
De facto UK administration!? The Falkland Islands have been British since 1833, and there has been a strong British presence there since the explorer John Byron rocked up in 1765 and claimed Saunders Island, the fourth biggest island, in the name of King George III.
For sure this was a different era, when the sea-faring nations were empire-building and the acceptability of this behaviour was not viewed as unacceptably as it would be today, and we certainly wouldn’t colonise or annex anywhere today.
But the Falklands – just like Gibraltar on the southern tip of Spain – are British to their bones in their people and modern heritage (less than 3% of the population are of Argentine/Spanish descent), and the total lack of historical understanding and respect by the Obama administration of this is indicative of a growing issue with Anglo-US relations.