America astonished by fall of loyal ally
FROM PETER STOTHARD, US EDITOR, IN WASHINGTON OVERSEAS NEWS
Edition 3* FRI 23 NOV 1990
WASHINGTON takes no joy in the fall of Mrs Thatcher. During her 11 years in office, Anglo-American relations were closer than at any time since the second world war. Her dealings with Ronald Reagan and George Bush were not always smooth, but she had become seen here increasingly as the most reliable friend and ally of both.
She was an invaluable adviser to Ronald Reagan, whose personal staff in the early 1980s initially lacked international experience, and whose official staff often told him what he knew to be wrong.
In a statement, Mr Reagan said: “Great Britain, and indeed all the world, should be thankful for the leadership of Margaret Thatcher.” She had been, he said, a completely reliable ally, and was a partner of the greatest personal integrity. “I could always count on her wise counsel, her firm support and her loyal friendship.” She had played a key role in ending the Cold War by standing up to the Soviet Union. She had “never wavered in her belief that all men and women are entitled to live in peace and freedom”. At home she had restored prosperity “today's strong and vibrant Great Britain is a direct result of the Thatcher years”. Her decision to resign in her party's interests was typically “selfless and courageous”.
After an uncertain start when George Bush became president, Mrs Thatcher came to adopt almost as important a position in his counsel as with Mr Reagan. At the beginning of the Gulf conflict, he deliberately sought her analysis and it was her assessment of the threat to international security and order posed by Iraqi aggression which set the intellectual framework for Operation Desert Shield. At the beginning of the Bush presidency, when his advisers wanted to cleanse the White House of the Reagan legacy, Mrs Thatcher was first considered part of the unwanted remains. James Baker, the Secretary of State, decided that Mrs Thatcher's closeness to Mr Reagan, her worries about the pace of German unification, and even her closeness to Mr Gorbachev were objects for suspicion. But the president never fully accepted that view.
Mrs Thatcher and Mr Reagan may go down in history as Washington's and London's “last romantics”. They had a number of fierce rows, the most violent being over the US invasion of Grenada, when she was not consulted about US intentions. But he overruled many of his own conservative friends in helping her to defeat General Galtieri. She did the same by facing widespread Tory anger over her endorsement of and aid for the American bombing of Libya. The two leaders shared the conviction that communism could be rolled back in Europe and around the world and she helped convince him that President Gorbachev was the man who could be trusted not to impede that process. Americans have watched the fall of Mrs Thatcher with disbelief as well as alarm. Even those who like to express a preference for Britain's clear system of parliamentary government over their own cumbersome system of separated powers have been shaken by the swift surgical removal of a prime minister in office by people of whom they have never heard and hardly thought mattered.