President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the two great conservatives on either side of the Atlantic who saved their nations’ economies and defeated the Soviet Union, often had sharp disagreements and verbal confrontations over strategy, according to author Richard Aldous.
In his book “Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship,” Aldous takes exception to trope that Reagan and Thatcher were kindred spirits who worked harmoniously to advance their countries’ mutual interests. To the contrary, Aldous, in an exclusive interview, tells Newsmax that Thatcher read Reagan the riot act on more than one occasion.
“On one level they did work very well, they enjoyed a great personal relationship, partly that was because Ronald Reagan had such incredibly thick skin that when Margaret Thatcher gave him an absolute tongue lashing, which she did frequently, that he never took it personally,” says Aldous.
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Their biggest conflict, he says, came over Reagan’s decision to invade Grenada, a small British commonwealth in the Caribbean, in order to liberate American medical students. He did so without first informing Thatcher, and the Iron Lady was none too pleased when she found out.
Says Aldous: “She certainly did give him a tongue lashing. In many ways, it was the most serious of disagreements that the two had in their shared time in office. Primarily because as Reagan freely admits in his diaries, he misled her.
“She phoned when she heard that the American troops might be going into Grenada, she phoned him urging not to do this. And as he said in his diaries, ‘I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the order had already been given.’
“So she was incredibly hurt by this,” the author says, “but also she thought it was a profound mistake that she simply did not believe that, however bad her raging might seem to be, that you could simply invade another country’s sovereignty.”
Reagan, in contrast, felt the Grenada mission was the first step in restoring American confidence and pushing back against Soviet communism.
“So he saw this as a really important moment in his presidency,” says Aldous. “The two were never able to agree about it, and it took probably around a year before they actually managed to get in a relationship back onto an even keel over the whole question.”
But the friction over Grenada reflected the general tenor of their working relationship, Aldous says. Reagan, for example, initially favored a diplomatic rather than a military response to Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. But Thatcher would have nothing of it.
“On one occasion, when the president phoned to say really she should try to involve herself with more negotiations, she actually tore a strip off him. So eventually he couldn’t wait to get off the phone fast enough,” Aldous says.
One reason their relationship worked so well, he says, is that Thatcher understood she could voice her intentions in no uncertain terms, while recognizing she would have to ultimately defer to the charismatic American leader.
“Margaret Thatcher was a realist,” says Aldous. “The deal really between the two of them was that she could say whatever she wanted to say, but at the end of the day when push really came to shove, she would get in line and be a good ally …. So she gave as good as she got, but it was a relationship that very often was characterized by very sincere arguments.”
One of those sincere arguments was over President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars.” She feared Reagan was making a mistake by pouring resources into a missile shield against nuclear aggression.
Although Thatcher feared Star Wars would be destabilizing, Reagan viewed it as the innovation that finally tipped the Soviet Union into insolvency as it tried to match the military prowess of the United States. And on this count, Aldous says history has shown Reagan was right.
“It’s very difficult to disagree with his analysis that, as we now know from looking at the documents that came out after the Cold War, that the Soviets really did recognize that this was just simply an expense too far, that they simply could not defeat the United States in this way.
“And that’s one of the reason that [Soviet leader] Mikhail Gorbachev decided to enter this period of negotiation and disarmament, because he saw that it was the best way of trying to guarantee the future while the Soviet Union,” he says.
Aldous says there is “a very strong element of truth” to the statements Monday following the news that Thatcher had passed away to the effect that she had saved Britain. He says she is one of the greatest British Prime Ministers in the Post-WWII era, and adds that her legacy continues to be felt even today.
“In a few years’ time, Britain, for example, will vote on its future in the European Union, whether it should be in or it,” says Aldous. “And I can absolutely guarantee you that in that debate, she will still be the central figure in terms of ideology and discussion of Britain’s role in Europe. So, even though she has passed, her political legacy still remains very much alive today.”
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