Is Trump facing his own Falklands moment?

In early 1982, the UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s position and her political future were under threat. She faced sharp criticism from within her government and the public following savage government spending cuts, a declining manufacturing industry and high unemployment. Then, the Argentinian military invaded the Falkland Islands, a remote and disputed UK protectorate in the South Atlantic.

Against the advice of many in her government, many of her close advisors and then US President, Ronald Reagan, Thatcher ordered a formidable military response to the Argentinian invasion of a British territory. The UK was victorious after six weeks of deadly and widely media-covered conflict that resulted in considerable casualties and large material losses on both sides but a surge in Thatcher’s popularity. Some even saw her actions as putting the ‘Great’ back into Great Britain.

Margaret Thatcher remained UK Prime Minister until 1990, making her the UK’s longest serving prime minister in the 20th century.

US President, Donald Trump, is facing sharp criticism and loss of popularity because of many domestic issues, notably for his response to the coronavirus pandemic and the uninspiring US economic and jobs recovery from the pandemic’s initial shock. Importantly for Trump, he is a long way behind his Democrat opponent in the opinion polls with the presidential election less than four months away.

Trump is blaming many others for his domestic failings and falling popularity, and is taking pot shots at China on a number of issues, most recently the Hong Kong National Security Law, territorial disputes South China Sea, Huawei and a longstanding trade imbalance.

In recent days, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has ramped up the US rhetoric about the territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China and (non-US) nations who, nevertheless are US allies.

Trump is vulnerable to his own Falklands moment. This time the player is mightier (militarily and economically) and the stakes for the world much higher than in 1982.