It’s almost impossible for me to think of Ronald Reagan without Margaret Thatcher. Elected the year before he came into office, she plowed the way for their shared conservative economic philosophy and backed his confrontational approach to the former Soviet Union.
Outflanking socialist/left leaders Pierre Trudeau in Canada and Francois Mitterand in France among the G-7 heads of state, Thatcher gave Reagan critical backing for his controversial missile deployments in Europe and the development of his Strategic Defense Initiative—widely derided as “Star Wars.” The technology proved critical in ending the cold war, and is now a key element of American foreign policy from the Iron Dome in Israel to the Aegis destroyers arrayed against Kim Jong Un.
Thatcher and Reagan were a team. They were also great friends, as former First Lady Nancy Reagan told me today. According to Reagan’s former Chief of Staff, James Baker, in an interview on msnbc today, the two cold warriors had only one memorable disagreement: When Reagan, with no warning, invaded a Commonwealth nation, the Caribbean island of Grenada. Baker told me today that Thatcher called and chastised Reagan, saying: “Ronny, that is not consultation. That is notification.”
Thatcher was controversial at home, breaking the back of the mineworkers and other trade unions, taking a hard line against immigrants, spurning appeals to help end Apartheid in South Africa and resisting engagement with Europe.
But critics and admirers acknowledge she was the most prominent British leader in generations, the first western leader to recognize that the world could do business with Mikhail Gorbachev, the first woman to lead her nation, and as a grocer’s daughter who broke through the rigid strictures of class. But to the rest of the world she displayed true grit, standing up to the IRA after an assassination attempt during a Conservative Party conference in Brighton.
Fighting illness, Thatcher taped a eulogy to Reagan in 2004 and traveled to both his state funeral in Washington and his burial in California. She had an incalculable influence on the conservative movement in the U.S. She was indeed the Iron Lady to the end.