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Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship Hardcover – March 19, 2012
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“Starred review. This is excellent revisionist history, giving another slant to the interaction of two political icons on the world stage.”
- Publishers Weekly
“An interesting revisionist history, Aldous’ study should attract the foreign policy audience.”
- Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
“Vivid, fast-paced and immensely readable, Richard Aldous' new book challenges conventional wisdom and prods us to rethink the 1980s.”
- Prof. David Reynolds (Cambridge), author of America, Empire of Liberty
“An important study, based on a wealth of recently-released documents, which puts the Thatcher-Reagan friendship in a wholy new (and more somber) light. It should be essential reading for anyone who cares about the history, the health and the future of the Anglo-American 'special relationship'.”
- David Cannadine, author of The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy and Mellon: An American Life
“I can’t speak for President Reagan, but I’ve been both praised and pulverized by Margaret Thatcher and Richard Aldous seems to me to have captured the force of her personality. She did have an emotional understanding of Reagan and her of her that in its essence, in my judgement, was warmer than between Churchill and Roosevelt. But her fury was incandescent over the invasion of Grenada, a member of the Commonwealth, as was the wimpiness of the initial American reaction to the seizure of the Falkland Islands. This is a valuable look behind the looking glass of public-relations politics of the special relationship.”
- Harold Evans, author of The American Century
About the Author
Richard Aldous is a professor of history at Bard College, where he holds the Eugene Meyer Chair. He is the author and editor of eleven books and is a contributor to television and radio on both sides of the Atlantic. Aldous’s writing appears regularly in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Book Review, and The American Interest, where he is a contributing editor. He lives in Red Hook, New York.
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Of the presidents that Thatcher maintained political relations with, it was Reagan that she professed to be the most competent. His “belief” in democracy and a nuclear free world coupled with Thatcher’s growing relationship with new USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev helped to bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Although the USSR had been drained by the arms race, both Reagan and Thatcher created a situation that allowed the Soviet leader to agree in a reduction in nuclear arms. Particularly, Reagans Star Wars program as well as the initial plans for START, which would not go into affect until 1991 under President Bush.
Both also shared similar experience that strengthened their relationship. After Reagan’s assassination attempt, Margaret phoned to see how the president was recovering and wrote to him about looking forward to “strengthening their relations” even more once he recovered. A few years later, a similar threat reached Thatcher. A car bomb, probably intended to kill the entire cabinet, nearly killed Thatcher as well. As before, the president returned the notion of continuing their relationship. Although fictitious, their was general concern and respect that they both shared for each other. Ardous argues that it is with foreign policies that the relationship was most tested.
In April of 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and assumed control. This territory belonged to the British and was governed by a democratic constitution. Britain, eager to go to war over the territory, expected American support on the issue. Yet, America’s relationship with Argentina caused hesitation in taking sides with Britain. After the sinking of two ships, Thatcher secured a military force to take back the Falklands. The situation, controversial in London as well as Washington, later proved to strengthen Thatcher’s ability as Prime Minister. Although the Falklands seemed unimportant to America, even Reagan had asked Thatcher why they desired to keep them, it was a matter of British pride in keeping the cold islands a world away.
After the Falkland crisis, another one arose. In Grenada, a Cuban force seized the government and endangered American interests. Reagan approved an immediate US military intervention, not wanting to wait for advice from Thatcher. Thatcher was deeply hurt by his initial request for advice then sudden will to act without it. Grenada was a success, overthrowing the military coup and installing a democratic governor a few months after the intervention. US-UK relations suffered during the Grenada situation and continued to suffer as Britain made the decision to begin looking to the East for support in foreign policy. To Thatcher, relying on the West after Grenada seemed too risky.
Aldous states that both Thatcher and Reagan were deeply impressed with Gorbachev and considered him a very capable leader to help bring an end to the Cold War. After nearly forty years of nuclear tensions, SDI proved to be the strength behind securing a reduction in nuclear arms that would later, after Reagan’s presidency, see greater limits on nuclear weapons. Aldous argues that although there was personal affection at times between the two world leaders, the political bond and Churchillian relationship that the media cultivated was only an image purposely created. They disagreed on more than they agreed yet each knew that they could rely on the other. Aldous argues that the Libyan strike carried out by the US with Britain’s permission to leave form their air base, after having been rejected by what the US thought to be a newfound relationship with France. In the end, Britain pulled through and could be counted on in times of crisis.
In the epilogue Aldous does finally almost admit to his overemphasis when he quotes Lord Palmerston's famous comment that "Countries have neither permanent allies nor permanent enemies, just permanent interests." Quite true and it really goes a long way to explaining that, yes, Reagan and Thatcher did, at times, have some major disagreements. I think Aldous was an author in search of rancor and he very much overemphasized the disagreements that occurred during the Reagan - Thatcher years.
Having said that I do have to give the author very high marks for writing a spellbinding history of the 80s. He does a remarkable job of demonstrating the complicated and dynamic events and politics that shaped these years. One cannot read this work without being overwhelmed by the complexities that existed on the world stage and how the participants, most of the time, successfully navigated them.
Overall, an excellent work well worth reading; as is his "Lion and the Unicorn," which covers the Disreali - Gladstone years of the 19th century.