From an academic aerie in Cambridge, Mass., Harvard Prof. Stanley Hoffman has a clear view: the United States has a "special responsibility" to help end the Falklands crisis quickly because "American policy twice fueled (it)." How? By its courtship of the Argentine junta, Hoffman argued recently in The New York Times, the administration helped start the crisis by leading the Argentines to believe they could get away with seizing the islands. And it made things worse by trying to mediate a settlement "instead of immediately condemning Argentine aggression."
This is revisionist nonsense. But it is also a particularly seductive and dangerous form of nonsense. It is seductive because it plays to the Vietnam/Iran/You- Name-It syndrome that reflexively finds U.S. policy to be the root of all international evil.
It is dangerous on two counts. In a general way, it fosters the delusion that in a complex and well-armed world there is no scope for stupidity and/or intransigence on the part of others and on a scale beyond the power of the United States to control. More specifically, no matter how the battle for the Falklands ends, there is no way at this stage for it to end really well for all concerned; enough damage has already been done.
The Falklands affair began with gross negligence and miscalculation by the British and the Argentines. True, the Reagan administration had reversed Carter administration policy and thrown a friendly arm around Argentina's military dictatorship in the interests of making common cause against the Soviets. But surely there is more than enough to deplore in this unholy alliance without the charge that it was somehow an incitement for Argentina to commit aggression against Great Britain.
The British themselves provided plenty of incentive to Argentine adventurism, if only by not taking the Falklands dispute seriously. If a wrong signal was sent, it was Britain's tentative acquiescence to a deal that would have transferred sovereignty over the islands to Argentina under a "lease-back" arrangement. So nobody's perfect--and certainly not the Reagan administration in the way its initial response was presented to the world. A Pentagon spokesman could have found a better way than "straight down the middle" to describe U.S. policy--or, better yet, kept quiet. The president's own "friends of both" formulation was a setup to be yanked out of context, which it promptly was. In his next breath he had taken pointed note that the official American position was represented in the United Nations Security Council when the United States joined the unconditional demand for an Argentine withdrawal and peaceful resolution of the dispute.
It escapes me how that loud, clear vote can reasonably be taken as anything other than a condemnation of Argentine aggression or a faithful expression of American support for Britain on the gut issue of the use of force.
There remains the argument by Hoffmann (and others) that in any case the Haig mediation effort was misguided and ill-timed. My own reporting at the time satisfies me that Haig had the initial intention of merely sounding out the prospects, was well aware of the risks, and only proceeded into mediation when he encountered full understanding of his role by the British government and encouraging sounds from both sides.
To count his mediation efforts a "failure," then, is to denounce a fire department for being unable, under conditions of extreme combustibility, to keep a fire from spreading out of control.