Great moments in Smart Power diplomacy: slapping your allies edition

**Posted by Phineas

Among the many embarrassing moments for the Obama administration (1) at the recent Summit of the Americas, the real standout has to be when the President of the United States showed utter, blithering ignorance of geography while at the same time sticking a shiv into one of our closest, oldest allies.

At a press conference, when asked about Argentine claims (2) to the Falkland Islands (part of the UK for nearly 200 years), our worldly-wise president tried to show how multicultural he is by referring to the islands by their Spanish name, “Las Malvinas.”

Except, he couldn’t keep it straight, calling them instead “The Maldives,” a group of islands in the Indian Ocean 8,000 miles away.


Okay, okay. So it’s a relatively petty point, and he was without his binky teleprompter. But we’ve been told time and again what a brilliant man he is, so don’t you think he could keep the names straight in a dispute involving an ally and an important regional actor? One that may break out in war? The press would have shown Bush no mercy, so, all’s fair. Obama owns this egg-on-the-face moment.

But, much more important than his latest impression of Norm Crosby, Obama’s proclamation of neutrality in the Falklands dispute was yet another slap in the face of one of our most important and trusted allies. As UK journalist Toby Harnden wrote:

But the bigger issue is that the Falkland Islands are a British Overseas Territory. This time 30 years ago, a British task force was en route to retake the islands after they had been invaded by Argentina. The death toll of that war included 255 British troops.


To spell it out: Obama is “neutral” over the sovereignty of islands that British troops, with American support, fought and died for at a time when British troops are fighting and dying alongside their American comrades in Afghanistan.

Not only that, Obama thinks that the term “Malvinas” is just as valid as the correct name on all the maps: the Falklands. Except that he cannot read his briefing notes carefully enough even to get the incorrect name right, mixing up the Malvinas with the Maldives.

What a way to treat the foremost ally of the United States.

The British also supported us in both Gulf Wars and have been stalwarts in the fight against al Qaeda globally. Given the choice between supporting Her Majesty’s Government in defense in the right of Falklanders to self-determination, on the one hand, and giving de facto support to the gangstergovernment of Argentine president Cristina Kirchner on the other, well, there is no choice, and the Obama-Clinton “evenhanded neutrality” is a disgrace.

Hell of a way to treat an ally, indeed.

LINKS: More from Fausta; Nile Gardiner wonders (again) if this is the thanks Britain gets. He also argues that Secretary Clinton is becoming an embarrassment. (“Becoming,” Nile? Try the past tense.) The Diplomad recounts earlier sorry moments in Obama’s Latin American diplomacy and calls this latest summit “a disaster.”

(1) The Secretary of State partying the night away. Secret Service Agents Gone Wild.
(2) Which are about as legitimate as my claim to the throne of the Tsars.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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