April 8, 2013

Reagan, Thatcher forged a close, lasting bond

The Associated Press

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In this June 23, 1982 file photo, President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher speak to reporters at the White House in Washington. Ex-spokesman Tim Bell says that Thatcher has died. She was 87. Bell said the woman known to friends and foes as "the Iron Lady" passed away Monday morning, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/File)

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In this Feb. 20, 1985 file photo, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher meets with her friend and political ally President Ronald Reagan during a visit to the White House in Washington. Thatcher, who led Britain for 11 years, died of a stroke Monday morning, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

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Today's widely held warm and fuzzy image of the Reagan-Thatcher alliance of three decades ago may have been fortified and blurred somewhat by the passage of time.

"They were actually very similar, but very different from what many people today think they did," said Bruce Bartlett, an economic adviser to Reagan and Bush.

While Thatcher and Reagan were both economic conservatives at heart, "they were also much more pragmatic about what could be done" than many of today's conservatives, Bartlett said. "And they both accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state. They just tried to make it work better and reduce its cost."

While both are known for slashing taxes and cutting spending, Reagan also supported many later tax increases and backed raising the government's borrowing authority many times. Thatcher raised her nation's value-added tax.

The two had vastly different governing styles. Reagan projected radiant optimism and cheerful agreeability. Thatcher, who came to be known as the "Iron Lady," exhibited relentless determination.

And they sometimes disagreed. For instance, Thatcher didn't get the level of support she wanted from Reagan during the Falklands War crisis. And Thatcher was miffed and annoyed by Reagan's 1983 invasion of the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada.

Still, "she was a great partner with the United States," said former top State Department official Nicholas Burns, including being the one who persuaded Reagan that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was "someone we can do business with."

Apparently her warmth with Reagan didn't fully convey to Bush, Reagan's successor.

While she fully supported Bush on confronting Saddam Hussein after Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, she was a little concerned about his resolve. "So this was the reason I said, 'Look, George, this is no time to go wobbly," she later recalled.

The elder Bush issued a statement Monday declaring: "America has lost one of the staunchest allies we have ever known."

 

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