Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died today after a stroke at the age of 87. Remember her? She was the one they made that horrible movie about. Thatcher suffered multiple strokes prior to this one and had been suffering from dementia for many years, much like her conservative American counterpart, Ronald Reagan, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1993. It was never confirmed whether Thatcher’s dementia was Alzheimer’s, though her struggle with dementia was depicted (horribly) in The Iron Lady, where it was reduced to Obi-wan Kenobi-style advice from her dead husband Denis, played (wonderfully) by Jim Broadbent. My grandmother died of Alzheimer’s a few years back. I promise, helpful advice from dead people isn’t a big part of it.
LONDON — Margaret Thatcher was credited with restoring Britain’s reputation on the world stage and her close bond with US president Ronald Reagan was seen as a key factor in ending the Cold War.
From “handbagging” European leaders in demanding Britain’s money back to sending a task force to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina, she cultivated the “Iron Lady” image to cunning effect.
When she took power in 1979 as Britain’s first female premier, Thatcher had little experience and even less interest in foreign affairs, with her main priority being to shore up the crumbling economy.
But that same year she approved the deployment of US cruise missiles in Britain, despite mass protests at home, as part of NATO’s efforts to counter what it saw as the growing threat from the Soviet Union.
When Reagan took office in 1981 she quickly formed a close bond with him.
Despite their different upbringings, the former Hollywood star and the shopkeeper’s daughter shared a free-market economic philosophy and a deep mistrust of communism.
“I have lost a dear friend… such a cheerful and invigorating presence,” she said in a video eulogy after Reagan died in 2004. “Thank you for your presidency, thank you for your testament of belief.”
But despite their shared distrust for Moscow and its allies, Thatcher was also the first Western leader to reach out to reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
In 1984, three months before he took power, Thatcher met him and declared “I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together.”
Her Cold War judgment was not always so forward looking, though, as she told Gorbachev that “we do not want a united Germany”, just two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
Yet it was a conflict over a windswept archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean that was in many ways the making of Thatcher as a foreign policy player on the global stage.
British forces drove out Argentine invaders from the Falkands in 1982 despite Washington’s refusal to offer any support — a sore point between Thatcher and Reagan — ending a long period of post-imperial military decline.
“We have ceased to be a nation in retreat,” she declared afterwards.
Geopolitics professor Klaus Dodds of Royal Holloway University in London told AFP that the effect of her stance over the Falklands was “to give successive prime ministers the confidence to project British forces into various other theatres.”
“When you think about where Britain’s gone after the Falklands — Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya — a lot of that has come off the back of the Falklands,” said Dodds.
From then on she lived up to the nickname she was given by a Soviet newspaper after a tirade against the Soviet Union in 1976 — the Iron Lady — and deepened Britain’s strategic relationship with the United States.
That toughness manifested itself particularly in her increasing opposition to growing European unification. [AFP]
There’s a lot wrong with the right’s weird hero worship of Ronald Reagan, but my favorite part of their argument is how they always cite how Reagan and Thatcher “won the Cold War,” as if we all got a big trophy and rocked out to Jesus Jones and lived happily ever after forever and ever. So we won, huh? What did we win? A bunch of pain-in-the-ass Middle Eastern countries that hate us instead of Russia now (even though the ones in Afghanistan can’t really tell the difference)? I could see Reagan and Thatcher being heroes in the former Soviet Bloc and in East Germany, where they at least got an end to Stalinist Communism out of it, but here? Have you seen Top Gun and Rocky IV and Rambo III (originally dedicated to the Mujahideen, incidentally)? The Cold War was the best thing that ever happened to us. It mostly sucked for everyone else.
Best result of the end of the Cold War? Pictures of Putin. [via Esquire]