Skip to comments.MARK STEYN: The Falklands War is a model of fierce good sense
Posted on 01/17/2003 11:02:26 AM PST by daviddennis
General Leopoldo Galtieri was never one of your big-time dictators, just a run-of-the-mill generalissimo of the kind who once had a hammerlock on Latin America's presidential palaces. He died on Sunday in Buenos Aires, under house arrest or, more accurately, under one-bedroom apartment arrest. But boy, you should've seen him in the old days, back at the Casa Rosada. Everything was going swell until he made one tiny slip-up: He decided that the answer to Argentina's impending financial collapse was to invade the Falklands.
Hitherto, the regime hadn't put a foot wrong: some 30,000 Argentine dissidents are thought to have "disappeared," many of them -- in accordance with long-held judicial practice -- tossed from aircraft into the sea. General Galtieri himself was said to have cooked up the 1981-82 program whereby the junta cut back on kidnapping and killing its enemies and instead kidnapped and killed its enemies' children.
On April 2nd 1982, the General brought the benefits of this regime to a couple of thousand British subjects in the South Atlantic. By April 8th, he had installed a new military governor on the islands, General Mario Menendez. The conquered Falkland Islanders were expected to "adjust" to the new arrangements. To be sure, there'd be one or two glitches in switching from English Common Law to Latin-American military dictatorship, but these could soon be ironed out.
That was more or less the line not just of the Argies but also of the British left, and of the defeatist wing of the Tory Party, and of Britain's sanctions-breaking "partners" in the European Community, and of the UN, and of the American media, and even of a substantial chunk of the Reagan Administration. They didn't all put it that way, but that was the upshot. Chance of restoring the status quo: zero per cent.
General Galtieri spent the last 20 years telling his dwindling circle of acquaintances that it never occurred to him the British would fight back. Who can blame him? In the Seventies, the map looked very different. The Soviets held half of Europe, had neutered most of the rest, and were advancing in every corner of the globe, from Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Grenada. The West never roused itself, except occasionally to co-operate: Cuban troops were in Africa, and Pierre Trudeau's contribution to the Cold War was to allow Castro's military aircraft to refuel in Canada. America had been humbled in Vietnam and humiliated in Iran, where the smiling eunuch Carter had allowed a superpower to be turned into a laughingstock, with cocky mullahs poking the corpses of U.S. servicemen on TV.
So why would General Galtieri have had any qualms about seizing the Falklands? Yes, it was British "sovereign territory," but the American Embassy in Teheran was U.S. "sovereign territory," and all the Peanut Peacenik had done was dither helplessly and then botch an ill-thought-out rescue mission. Why would the toothless, arthritic British lion be any different?
The Falklands War is the decisive war of the last quarter-century, if only because it's the one the world -- like Galtieri -- never expected. It marks the dividing line between the free world's territorial losses of the Sixties and Seventies and its gains in the Eighties and Nineties. Galtieri wasn't an ideological enemy: He was, in the shorthand of the time, a "right-wing" general and he had plenty of pals in Washington. But, when you're perceived, as the West was, as weak and paralyzed by self-doubt, you're anybody's fool. The Commies were gobbling up real estate all over the globe, so were the Ayatollahs; why shouldn't some bargain-basement caudillos get a piece of the action?
That's my worry about the last year -- that, whatever's going on behind the scenes, the perception among the world's loonies and losers is that America isn't serious. So here's a few other lessons worth learning from Mrs. Thatcher's Falklands War, a model of fierce good sense in the face of all the usual insanity:
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE
The first thing the British Government did was assemble and dispatch a vast task force as quickly as possible. From Mrs. Thatcher's point of view, this put a clock on events: It would take a couple of weeks for the ships to reach the area. At that point, they'd start firing. So, if General Galtieri was seriously interested in avoiding war, that was the schedule, and Maggie intended to stick to it.
For its part, Argentina calculated that the longer the situation went on without being reversed the less likely it was that it would ever be reversed. World opinion gets used to things very quickly -- the Argies have the Falklands, North Korea has nukes -- and such will to rollback as there is dissipates quickly.
In the war on terror, I fear the clock has stopped.
THE UN IS FOR SHOW ONLY
To recall what the striped-pants set were advocating after the Argentine invasion is to understand why the world should never be left to the experts. The peace plan being promoted by Javier Perez de Cuellar, the UN Secretary-General, involved the UN taking over administration of the islands. This "solution" would have been seen, correctly, as a massive defeat for the British.
The Prime Minister understood the UN was institutionally inimical to the West. The Falklands, for example, came under the organization's absurdly anachronistic "Decolonization Committee," even though the islanders had no interest in being decolonized. Mrs. Thatcher went through the motions of UN diplomacy, but she never ceded control of the agenda or the timetable.
TO THE EXPERTS, IT'S ALWAYS A QUAGMIRE
From The New York Times of May 8th 1982:
"In Argentina, Junta's Confidence Grows"
News Analysis by James M. Markham
"One of the central premises of the strategy of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain in the South Atlantic conflict -- that gradually increasing military pressure will generate concessions from the Argentine junta -- does not appear to be working ..."
If it seems incredible that The New York Times would pay good money for Mr. Markham's "analysis," look at all the Afghan quagmire guys -- hello, Eric Margolis! -- now making a good living as Iraqi quagmire predictors. Dictatorships are always unbeatable until that moment when they suddenly collapse and implode.
DICTATORS ARE NEVER RATIONAL
Why would anybody think, faced with economic catastrophe, that invading a string of distant islands is the answer? Dictators don't behave rationally. Indeed, one reason they become dictators is precisely to escape the tiresome constraints of rationality. There may be valid arguments for not going to war with Iraq, but not the ones that begin, oh, even if Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, he'd never use them against the West. Never bet on a dictator's rationality.
STABILITY IS A FETISH
From The Washington Post of May 26th 1982:
"British Move to Seek A Definitive Victory Said to Unsettle U.S.
By Leonard Downie Jr.
"Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is creating an uncomfortable dilemma for the Reagan administration in her determination to win a complete military victory in the Falkland Islands and restore them to full British colonial administration ...
"Reagan administration officials fear that a humiliating defeat for Argentina will sour American as well as British and European relations with much of Latin America for a long time to come, according to the sources ..."
Well, the sources were wrong. Mrs. Thatcher liberated not just the Falklands, but also Argentina, at least from the military. Galtieri fell and democracy returned. The "humiliating defeat" of the junta tainted all the other puffed-up bemedalled tinpots by implication. And, whatever the problems of Latin America today, no one's pining for the return of the generals. Twenty years ago, the realpolitik crowd thought a democratic South America was a fantasy and that we had to cosy up to the strutting little El Presidentes-for-Life. Today, the same stability junkies tell us we have to do the same with Boy Assad and Co. They're wrong again. They always are.
That great thinker Sheryl Crow declared the other day: "War is based in greed and there are huge karmic retributions that will follow. I think war is never the answer to solving any problems. The best way to solve problems is to not have enemies."
In the Falklands, war solved a lot of problems. For 20 years, the islanders have lived in peace and freedom. So, in their own chaotic Latin fashion, have the liberated peoples of Argentina and most of the rest of the continent. If the best way to solve problems is not to have enemies, then the best way not to have enemies is to get rid of them. Thank you, Mrs. Thatcher. Rest in peace, General Galtieri, wherever you are.
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Also, ping 'em on this, one you seem to have missed!
Many thanks for maintaining the list!
Pinging the Steyn list.
BOO-Yah! There's a comeback.
Steyn has a way of stating the obvious such that it really is obvious!
Thanks for the ping.
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