Thursday 1 April 1982
"Reach out and touch someone".
Yeah, well, the Bell System never had to deal with General Leopoldo Galtieri. That's the Argentine strongman with whom the President is eloquently pleading on the long-distance phone line to Buenos Aires, urging him to call off his country's invasion of the Falkland Islands. Never heard of them, right? Me neither - at least not until last evening when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent an urgent message through the Cabinet Line requesting the President to intercede with the Argies. 1800 British-origin sheepherders, pursuing a peaceful life on some wind-blown specks of rock in the South [fo.150 begins] Atlantic, now targeted by Argentine amphibious assault units - who, in turn, may soon be attacked by the largest naval armada ever to steam out of British ports since Suez? Yes indeed, the thing certainly does sound like Gilbert and Sullivan as told to Anthony Trollope by Alistair Cooke. But what started out as comic opera now looks to become not only quite serious, but exceptionally nasty. The Argentines have clearly misjudged the British temper, and this guy Galtieri, speaking first in broken mafioso-type English before the State Department interpreter tactfully intervenes, sounds like a thug. I am very proud of the President, but none of his eloquent delivery cuts any ice with the junta leader, whose machismo, according to the intercepts we have, will propel him forward with his main invasion plans early tomorrow morning (indeed, when we establish a clearer chronology of events just a few days from now, it will appear that the lead elements of that amphibious force were landing at the very moment the two Chiefs of State were talking - no doubt explaining that rigmarole we went through earlier this evening when we kept getting all the evasive bullshit from Palace flunkies who told us their President was unavailable to receive the call ..).
April fool? Unfortunately not, as the text of a Cabinet Line message I do for the President in response to Mrs. Thatcher's plea later tonight makes clear:
"I have just talked at length with General Galtieri about the situation in the Falklands. I conveyed to him my personal concern about the possibility of an Argentinian invasion. I told him that initiating military operations against the Falklands Islands would seriously compromise relations between the US and Argentina, and I urged him to refrain from offensive action. I offered our good offices and my readiness to send a personal representative to assist in resolving the issue between Argentina and the UK.
"The General heard my message, but gave me no commitment that he would comply with it. Indeed, he spoke in terms of ultimatums and left me with the clear impression that he has embarked on a course of armed conflict. We will continue to cooperate with your government in the effort to resolve the dispute, both in attempting to avert hostilities and to stop them if they should break out. While we have a policy of neutrality on the sovereignty issue, we will not be neutral on the issue involving Argentine use of military force.
So here among the intercepts and the FLASH cables from Buenos Aires and the pages of Presidential correspondence and the secure-line readout for Secretary Haig and the bacon cheeseburgers schlepped in from the White House Mess, my adrenalin is really flowing. Alas, futility will be the end result. "Blessed are the peacemakers," sez I to the Sit Room [White House Situation Room] watch officers as we yuk around, but tomorrow the Argentines will land in the Falklands and the sputtering fuse of this crisis will be unquenchable ...