May 07, 2007

Fred Halliday on the Falklands

In this article, Fred Halliday Professor of Politics at the LSE claims that the British defence of the Falklands in 1982, prepared the way directly for the support of Afghan Mujahadeen in the late 1980s and hence to September 11th. Professor Hallidays argues that

The temptation to see the Malvinas war as an isolated, exceptional event should, however, be resisted. In particular, the covert United States-British collaboration which was central to eventual British victory helped to consolidate a far more momentous (and far less publicised) military project then being implemented, one whose destructive impacts are still reverberating across the region and the world: the jihad against the then Soviet occupation of Afghanistan....

The real legacy of the 1982 war is, then, one of profound strategic and ideological irresponsibility, whose consequences were to be seen in the local wars and pitiless massacres perpetrated in many poor countries in the 1980s - El Salvador and Nicaragua, East Timor and Angola - by the friends of Margaret Thatcher. Those who seek to conduct a balance-sheet of the grisly record of that decade must complement their assessment of the adventure in the south Atlantic by putting it in the context of wars in the Hindu Kush and beyond, then and now.

There are two arguments here: one is that the Falklands invasion was of the same imperialist nature as later invasions, and the other is that it historically caused the British to ally with America in funding the resistance in Afghanistan.

The first argument seems to me to be manifestly wrong. Professor Halliday attacks the British invasion of the Falklands for being a 'grotesque indulgence' to grant 'a population of 3,000 people the right to determine matters of strategy, diplomacy and economic interest', whatever one thinks of his argument, I don't think that is the same justification as the justifications offered for say the invasions of El Salvador or Iraq. Those invasions whether justified on the basis of toppling nasty dictators (a matter of dispute) or weapons of mass destruction (likewise) were not justified in the same ways as the invasion of the Falklands was. Rather the invasion of the Falklands ressembles far more the 1991 Gulf War, it was clear in the case of the Falklands that the population did not want to become Argentinian- and Professor Halliday admits that point and calls British policy on the issue a grotesque indulgence. He may be right, but whatever kind of error it was, the point is that it was not the same kind of error as those possibly committed in Iraq or Latin America.

So if no principle was established by the Falklands War that necessarily connects it with the events of Iraq or Afghanistan or indeed the US interventions in Latin America, to which Professor Halliday also links it, is there a historical link to what subsequently happened in Afghanistan. Again I don't see any evidence that there is. Ok the Americans backed the British- and the British helped the Americans train the Afghans- but there were other occasions where the Americans annoyed Margeret Thatcher- the invasion of Grenada deeply disturbed her and yet there was no doubt on which side the Thatcher government fell in the Cold War even so. If the argument is that without the Falklands, Michael Foot might have won the British election in 1983 and not backed the Americans in Afghanistan- well that's an argument about the 1983 election not really about the fact that there was a necessary connection between the Falklands War and the support for the resistance in Afghanistan.

You might rightly ask why I'm bothering to write this post. Firstly I respect Professor Halliday- I even own one of his books, so consequently I am disturbed to find him writing something I consider wrong- maybe I need correction- readers I ask for it.

The second point though and the more important point is that Professor Halliday appears to me to make an error its very important that we don't make if we are to understand the world. He has decided that the UK in all its actions is imperialist and therefore all its actions must be imperialist and all of them must lead forwards and backwards to and from each other. History though isn't like that. History is muddled, confusing and complicated- simple models in general don't work. If we are to truly assess the relevance of the Falklands War (if it has any relevance) for the war on terror, then we need to understand what it was about- and misunderstanding it as part of a pattern of British imperialism helps noone.


John Lancaster said...

Like you I highly resprect Prof. Halliday, but think he has been seduced by the urbane charm of Dr Di Tella. By sending the islanders "a bear of little brain", he clearly underestimated the character and resolution of those "relics of colonialisation" who were doing no harm to anyone, and had been enjoying this for a long time. General Galtieri, also of little brain, invaded the Falklands (why does Halliday insist on Malvinas?) to divert domestic attention away from his catastrophic running of the country. That it would happen without reprisals was his big mistake, one that cost the loss of life and further misery to his countrymen. London's decsion to restore the islands'sovereignty was perfectly logical from a legal, moral and humantitarian standpoints. His linking this to the support of terrorists/freedom fighters, I find quite ludicrous. Many other examples can be found, in Latin Americ, and the middle east, but not the Falklands. In other words: BAH!

Gracchi said...

John I think I agree with most of what you say- I deliberately left out whether the Falklands were justified because I thought that the most important thing is that Halliday made a category error.

Personally I do think that the Falklands was justifed- but I do think that the real issue is that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not the same as the Falklands.

And I don't see the historical connection...

james higham said...

I read that it was a fight by two bald men over a comb.

Political Umpire said...

I haven't heard of this chap and certainly don't respect him.

The article is a load of rubbish, for the reasons you give and many others besides.

People of the author’s political bent like to cry ‘racism’ at every opportunity and then some. So the author does when contrasting the defence of the Falklands with the sell-out of Hong Kong. The different legal position (Falklands having been British since 1833, H-K subject to a lease) isn’t mentioned. But nor is the key reason behind the different actions of the British government, namely the respective sizes of China and Argentina. The Chinese merrily told Thatcher just after the Falklands that they were not the Argies, and could easily have a few hundred thousand Red Army soldiers in Hong Kong in an afternoon. To suggest that the outcome of H-K could have been any different is somewhat idealistic to say the least.

Not much better is his argument “it implies granting a population of 3,000 people the right to determine matters of strategy, diplomacy and economic interest, which is a grotesque indulgence”. Well, granting the author the right to call upon the NHS, the police and the army to defend _him_ is a grotesque indulgence.

This sentence – “The British claim to these islands, 8,000 miles (12,800 kilometres) from the "homeland", is on any basis - rational, geo-strategic and common sense - unsustainable (as if Japan were to claim part of Suffolk)” is beneath contempt.

In other words, he joins with those who think the best outcome is to place the Islanders in a council estate in the Midlands and put them all on welfare. He thinks they could be resettled in other countries such as New Zealand or Canada – has he forgotten that they aren’t part of the empire any more?

It just gets worse. He says that the Argentine occupation wasn’t like the Junta’s oppressive regime back home. Has he not bothered to read any of the islanders’ accounts of life under Argentine rule? Does he not realise that they didn’t hold the islands long enough to get round to any serious oppression?

And still it gets worse. He says the war “set a terrible example of wasted lives, and of the indulgence of wildly disproportionate (imperialist and nationalist) claims, to the rest of the world”

Has he bothered to think through the implications of Britain not going to war? Never mind those for Britain itself, it would have set a terrible example of how an oppressive regime can save itself from domestic strife by engaging in a little jingoistic war, which the rest of the world will ignore including those supposedly the protectors of those you invade”.

I can’t stand any more of it!

The quote about the bald men and the comb is a good soundbite, but ignores the fact that the 'comb' was a group of people who very clearly did not want to be owned by the aggressor of the two bald chaps.

Gracchi said...

He has written more interesting stuff- that's why I was so shocked!

I agree with all of your points- I'm not an expert in the Falklands but it struck me that the conceptual point was the most severe, that he just miatook the nature of the war.