A remarkable story has emerged and has been missed in the British press.
It’s long been the accepted wisdom that in 1982 the US would have been quite happy for the Falkland Islands issue to disappear – in favour of the Argies. Indeed after the invasion they publicly called for UN negotiations rather than military action.
The argument goes that it was the personal relationship between President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher which produced US assistance in the conflict…and then only covertly.
However in a speech last week to the US Naval Institute the then Secretary of the Navy (and current Romney naval adviser) John Lehman revealed a startling fact.
Had the UK lost either of our two carriers to enemy action, President Reagan was prepared to give the UK the use of the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship with the capacity to support Harrier jets.
“We agreed that [Weinberger] would tell the President that we planned to handle all these requests routinely without going outside existing Navy channels,” Lehman said in a speech provided to the U.S. Naval Institute he made in Portsmouth, U.K.
“We would ‘leave the State Department, except for [Secretary of State Al] Haig, out of it.’” Reagan approved the request without hesitation and his instructions to Weinberger had been simple, “Give Maggie everything she needs to get on with it,” Lehman said in the speech.
The US State Department was bypassed because Haig was arguing for the UK to give in to the Argentinians and walk away.
Writing in the National Review, John O’Sullivan documents the internal deliberations of the National Security Council from recently released meeting minutes.
1. Reagan stuck to a distinction between sovereignty over the Falklands (on which Washington was neutral) and armed aggression to settle the question (on which Washington sided with Britain);
2. Within that distinction he allowed his Cabinet secretaries considerable leeway to pursue their own interpretations of U.S. policy;
3. Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger and CIA Deputy Director Bobby Inman used that leeway to push military and intelligence aid to Britain, and Secretary of State Haig used it to push Britain toward diplomatic concessions that amounted, in his own account to the NSC, to “camouflaged transfer of sovereignty.”
At the time the US’ “neutrality” during the war confused and infuriated many (including TheEye) and appeared to the world as effectively support for the Argentinians. That may have made political sense for relations on that side of the planet but it didn’t chime well this side of the Pond.
Now it’s good to know that we did have some very unexpected aces up our sleeve.
Those were the days when the Special Relationship actually meant something.
TheEye would like to extend a personal welcome to a certain lurker on this blog who got in contact following the previous Falklands post. He was down there in ’82 on a ship with which TheEye also has a very close personal connection. BZ and good to have you here.