Can anyone tell me why many in Washington at the time had the "comic opera" views of the Falklands Crisis?

In the view of David Gompert, Eagleburger’s deputy, this approach contrasted sharply with the “comic opera” (a Gilbert and Sullivan episode) views many in Washington had of the Falklands crisis at that time.
(Source: Don Lippincott and Gregory Treverton, Falklands/Malvinas (B): The Haig Mediation Effort, p.7)
Can anyone tell me why many in Washington at the time had the “comic opera” views of the Falklands Crisis?
It should have been a very serious occurrence, right?

One person has made this claim. Has anyone else?

From a British perspective, I can imagine that there were a fair number of people in Washington who didn’t much rate what they saw as out-of-date, self-deluding and unjustified imperial pretentions on the part of the UK (in the context of the economic and social crises of the late 70s and early 80s, that wouldn’t have been uncommon elsewhere, including within the UK). I’m sure I remember reading somewhere that some senior US military official said, in some other context but around that time, that the British Arny wasn’t much more than some good bands). Likewise, yet another military dictatorship in seemingly repeatedly coup-infested Latin America might have been seen as the same sort of over-grandiose self-inflation (and among Argentines too - the writer José Luis Borges said the Falklands issue was like two bald men fighting over a comb). So for the people who thought they were in charge of the western world, it could well have looked like Ruritania and Molvania having some nineteenth-century style petty spat, all chest-beating in fancy uniforms and medals (unlike, of course, the glorious liberation of Grenada, but that’s an entirely different story)

I can well remember that even in the UK a lot of people thought it wouldn’t come to a seriously full-scale attempt to retake the Islands by force, right up until the point where the task force came into contact with Argentine forces.

I vaguely remember that some people thought the idea of two countries fighting over a tiny island full of sheep in the middle of nowhere was kind of silly.

Yes, the once-great British Empire had declined to the point where the Argentinians believed the British incapable of taking back the island once the takeover was a fait accompli.

Adding to that was the sad story of the Belgrano. Allegedly the admirals were annoyed that the army was getting all the glory of liberating the Falklands and wanted in on the action. The rest of the junta told them not to take the ship out, but they told them where to stick it. The the British took care of the ship.

(Almost in the same league as when an argument broke out in the South Korean cabinet and one member of the military government pulled out a gun and started shooting at the others. In the category of “you can’t make this stuff up…”)

Which was of course why the Thatcher government went ahead: not so much because of any significance of the islands themselves (they’d been negotiating some sort of deal with Argentina for years), rather the importance of not letting it be thought we were a pushover.

I remember the Falkland War as a joke primarily as: The UK is going to utterly decimate the Argentinian forces. It’ll be like the Pittsburgh Steelers playing Sister Mary Catherine Girls’ School for Sewing.

Which is what happened.

I don’t know about Washington, but in America in general, we still remembered a recent bitter, lost war (and one where kids were drafted to fight, unlike the more recent War on Terror). Things were looking good for the 80s: detente and mutually assured destruction, the Begin/Sadat peace treaty, and if our weed-smoking wasn’t creating any narco-terrorist states that we knew of. (Africa was off the radar, probably violent, but not as bad as it had been in the Congo in the early 60s).

Then, in short order, the Iranians have their revolution hijacked by religious zealots, the USSR invades Afghanistan, America rejects progressivism in the 1980 election, Israel invades Lebanon, and yes, Argentina grabs the Falklands.

In and of itself, Britain’s was an irritated elderly lion flicking a claw, no more memorable than France’s intervention in Zaire four years earlier except for Thatcher’s grandstanding afterwards. But combined with everything else going on it wasn’t an isolated “comic opera,” but a part of a bigger mass tragedy.

The way I remember, and I was just a kid at the time, was all of Thatcher’s grand standing juxtaposed with how long it actually takes to sail from Britain to the Falkland Islands. So all of this noise and rhetoric, which amounts to “we’ll be there in three weeks, and then you’ll be sorry.”

The slow startup left a long time for Johnny Carson and others to make fun of the war before the jokes were following casualty numbers on the news.

I think it was more the idea that the Argentines were considered wholly incompetent, being just another Latin American dictatorship with fancy uniforms and not much else, and the British weren’t considered to have the capability to actually mount an invasion over such a long distance, nor did anyone really think they’d actually attempt it or succeed.

So I can see why a lot of people in Washington may not have taken it particularly seriously in light of all the other Cold War stuff that went on.

But it was an aberration from the usual Cold War proxy wars, a war between two “Western” nations (notwithstanding that Argentina was a dictatorship, but that small issue didn’t usually faze Cold War warriors on both sides). That’s what made it bizarre.

[Bolding mine]

Sorry if I missed it but, what approach is that?

Thank you for your explanation in detail. Sounds like the public at the time didn’t really feel Mrs. Thatcher’s resolve to retake the Falklands.

Thank you for your memory. Any headlines of news articles at the time related to that silly idea that you can remember as well?

Thank you all.
I don’t quite understand the metaphor “like the Pittsburgh Steelers playing Sister Mary Catherine Girls’ School for Sewing” by Saint_Cad and the mentioning of narco-terrorist states by Slithy_Tove.
And to answer I_Love_Me_Vol.I, this approach refers to Haig’s aggressive style in dealing with the Falklands Crisis.

Equivalence: “it would be like el River Plate playing against the team of the Escuela de Costura de Niñas de las Hermanas de la Caridad”

I think you’re implying that the British Army was far more powerful than Argentina’s. Correct?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a professional American (gridiron) football team; if they were to play football against a school of young women (or young men, for that matter), it would be a ridiculously one-sided match.

Like New Zealand announcing that it owns American Samoa and declaring war on the U.S.

Yes, and far more experienced. Of course Thatcher sent the elites.

Americans thought it was a tempest in a teapot, but cheered when the Royal marines and Navy kicked their asses. Americans don’t like bullies, and while many of us thought Argentine had a legit claim, that was the wrong way to go about it.