Thatcher, a Close Friend to the U.S., Strongly Opposed Communism, Terrorism
(CNSNews.com) – As tributes pour in and Britons wrestle over her legacy at home, few around the world would dispute that Margaret Thatcher’s foreign policy left Britain more respected, and the West stronger, during a pivotal decade of the 20th century.
Britain’s first woman prime minister, who died Monday at 87, will be remembered for breathing new life into the “special relationship” with the United States; defying advice in launching – and winning – a risky war in the distant South Atlantic; and seeing in the incoming Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a man with whom she believed the West could “do business.”
The Conservative prime minister’s 11-and-a-half years in 10 Downing Street ran from the latter half of the Carter presidency to halfway through the George H.W. Bush administration, but for Americans Thatcher will always be associated with President Reagan.
From their views on the free market to the need for a strong defense, the two were sometimes referred to as “ideological soul mates,” and the warmth and mutual admiration in the relationship was evident at every meeting.
“We in Britain think you are a wonderful president,” Thatcher toasted Reagan at a 1985 dinner at the British Embassy in Washington, celebrating the 200th anniversary of diplomatic relations. “And from one old hand to another, welcome to a second term.”
(Reagan’s second term had begun a month earlier; Thatcher had been returned to power in a 1983 landslide election.)
“We’ve always found it easy to discuss great matters together,” Thatcher continued. “We see so many things in the same way. We share so many of the same goals and a determination to achieve them …”
In a return toast Reagan told her: “I’ve wanted to tell you that when I ran for office in 1980 I was greatly encouraged by the victory that you won in 1979. And it was very thoughtful of you to set me another good example in 1983. We’ve been inspired by your leadership.”
Recalling American and British leaders who had worked closely in the past – Roosevelt and Churchill, Kennedy and Macmillan – Reagan said, “There’s been something very special about the friendships between the leaders of our two countries. And may I say to my friend the prime minister, I’d like to add two more names to this list of affection – Thatcher and Reagan.”
After its attempts to mediate a settlement failed, the U.S. supported Britain’s mission to retake the Falklands and South Georgia after Argentina occupied the disputed islands in 1982, providing crucial intelligence and military equipment.
Four years later, Thatcher offered the use of British airbases and logistical support when Reagan ordered bombing raids on Libya in response to the bombing of a Berlin disco, which killed two American servicemen.
Like Reagan, Thatcher took an uncompromising position on international terrorism, although in her case the biggest threat was closer to home.
The Irish Republican Army’s violent campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland marked her years in power, with bombs killing one close colleague in central London just two months before she became prime minister, and another not far from the capital during her final months in office in 1990.
Thatcher herself was targeted by the IRA, surviving a 1984 assassination attempt when a bomb was planted at the annual Conservative Party conference in the seaside resort of Brighton, killing five people, including senior party members.
Thatcher characteristically insisted that the conference continue, and in a speech a few hours after the bombing delivered what was to become one of many memorable quotes:
“The fact that we are gathered here now – shocked, but composed and determined – is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.”
‘The Iron Lady’
Thatcher was known by admirers and detractors alike as the “Iron Lady,” a nickname first used in a Soviet Army publication in 1976, five days after Thatcher – then leader of the opposition – had delivered a passionate speech about the Soviet threat, warning that “[t]he Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen.”
In late 1984, she met in England with a rising Soviet Politburo member named Mikhail Gorbachev and afterwards told the BBC, “I am cautiously optimistic. I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.”
Three months later Gorbachev became Communist Party general secretary and later that year held a historic summit in Geneva with Reagan. As a trusted, conservative ally, Thatcher is credited with having persuaded the American president that the Russian leader was serious about détente. The Cold War’s – and Soviet communism’s – days were numbered.
In a statement responding to news of her death, President Obama said, “Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history – we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.”
“Prime Minister Thatcher is a great example of strength and character, and a great ally who strengthened the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States,” President George W. Bush said in a statement, describing her as “an inspirational leader who stood on principle and guided her nation with confidence and clarity.”
“Laura and I join the people of Great Britain in remembering the life and leadership of this strong woman and friend.”