special edition | Margaret Thatcher 1925-2013



John Cassidy | The New Yorker

The Iron Lady, a sobriquet that some Soviet journalists would subsequently bestow upon her, was already inside 10 Downing Street, laying down the law. On her way in, famously, she stopped and quoted St. Francis of Assisi about bringing harmony where there was doubt—a statement that I and many others came to see as the first of her many outrages. How could such a divisive, bellicose, and heartless figure have the gall to talk like that? But this morning, watching for the first time in many years some footage of what she said, I realized that she wasn’t actually trying to portray herself as a conciliator. Mrs. Thatcher—and despite the life peerage that gave her the title of baroness, no one in Britain would call her anything else—was sending a sterner message about what lay ahead. Flanked by two burly policemen, her blonde hair swept back and lacquered into immobility, she also recited several more of St. Francis’s lines: “Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.” Then, quoting the late Airey Neave, her aristocratic mentor in the Conservative Party, whom the I.R.A. had blown up just weeks earlier, she added in a voice that, even today, thirty-four years later, can set my teeth grating: “There is now work to be done.”

. . . If the British expeditionary force had been defeated, she would have been finished. But the Argentine conscripts were no match for the professional British soldiers, and Mrs. Thatcher was triumphant. Emerging from 10 Downing Street on a dark April evening, she stood beside John Nott, her Defense Minister, as he announced the Argentine surrender. Refusing to take any questions from the assembled hacks, she instead instructed them: “Just rejoice at that news, and congratulate our forces and the marines. Good night, gentlemen.”

Rejoicing at people’s deaths? To me and to many others at the time, that statement seemed callous and, again, outrageous. But watching the footage again this morning, I have to admit, I couldn’t help cracking a smile at her temerity, her hectoring, and her sheer certitude that she was in the right. She really was something else. No wonder women like my mother (who never voted for her after 1979) admired her strength of character. You think Hillary Clinton is tough?


John Hudson | Foreign Policy

Before anyone in the United States knew who Margaret Thatcher was — including the president — it was the job of a U.S. diplomat to describe this new rising star in Britain’s political scene. The year was 1975, Gerald Ford was president, and Thatcher had just successfully challenged former Prime Minister Edward Heath for the Conservative Party’s leadership. In a newly digitized cable from WikiLeaks, a U.S. diplomat gives a colorful and breathless first impression of the Iron Lady before she became a giant of the 20th century. The document is dated Feb. 12, 1975, from the U.S. Embassy in London to the U.S. secretary of state.



Marya Hannun | Foreign Policy

Perhaps nothing speaks to how polarizing a figure Margaret Thatcher was (and continues to be) than the varied reactions to her passing. As the day comes to a close, many in Britain have mourned the former prime minister’s death, including current Prime Minister David Cameron, who cut a European trip short to lead a somber tribute to her. But others have been downright giddy.

Critics of Thatcher took to the streets (the Glasgow City Council dispersed a social media-organized “party” in a public square, citing safety concerns) and the Twittersphere to hail her death.


Glenn Greenwald | The Guardian

This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power. “Respecting the grief” of the Thatcher family is appropriate if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse about the person’s life and political acts.

. . . But the key point is this: those who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren’t silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person’s death to create hagiography.

. . . Whatever else may be true of her, Thatcher engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq. She denounced Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”, something even David Cameron ultimately admitted was wrong. She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein and Indonesian dictator General Suharto (“One of our very best and most valuable friends”). And as my Guardian colleague Seumas Milne detailed last year, “across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown.”

To demand that all of that be ignored in the face of one-sided requiems to her nobility and greatness is a bit bullying and tyrannical, not to mention warped.


Mikhail Gorbachev | The Guardian

I then unfolded in front of Margaret a diagram divided into 1,000 squares. I said that if all nuclear weapons stockpiled primarily by the US and the Soviet Union were divided into 1,000 parts, then even one of them would be enough to cause irreparable damage to all life on Earth. The question was, why continue the race, what is the point of this insane competition? She replied that they had been forced to respond to the nuclear armament of the Soviet Union – a country that had not renounced the goals of world revolution. I countered that it was the US that had started it all – it invented the nuclear bomb and used it in Japan, when there was no military need for it, just the political calculus. I said that documents had already been published showing that just after the second world war there had been plans to strike the Soviet Union, at its vital centres, which would have devastated and virtually destroyed our country. The US led the race, I concluded.

On top of it, let us not forget Winston Churchill’s speech at Fulton, which in effect, ushered in the cold war.

Margaret argued the western viewpoint – and she was fully committed to it. In fact, she was the ideologue for the view that nuclear weapons were a necessary deterrent to the USSR.

I have to say that even later, and even after my meeting with Reagan at Reykjavik and the signing of the treaty eliminating all INF missiles, she continued to uphold her view of nuclear weapons. In one of our conversations, when we had already come to know each other well and were talking amicably, though as always, earnestly, I asked her why she felt so comfortable sitting on a nuclear powder keg.

Be that as it may, it was then, during that talk at Chequers, that the special relationship was born, one that we not only preserved but expanded, working to change relations between our countries and put an end to the deep freeze in which they had been kept.


Jennifer Schussler | The New York Times

From the beginning, some of the toughest depictions came from musicians. Opposition to her free-market ideology infused albums like Gang of Four’s 1979 “Entertainment!” and, in the same year, the Clash EP “Cost of Living,” the cover of which Joe Strummer reportedly wanted to include a collage featuring Mrs. Thatcher’s face and a swastika. Robyn Hitchcock, in the song “Brenda’s Iron Sledge” (1981), imagined Thatcher’s Britain as a surreal dog-sled ride to hell. The Beat’s “Stand Down Margaret” (1980) called on her to resign. In 1985 Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Kirsty McColl and other musicians founded Red Wedge, a collective aimed at forcing her to do just that.

When that effort failed, some turned to dark fantasies. In “Margaret on the Guillotine” (1988), Morrissey trilled “People like you/Make me feel so tired/ When will you die?” Elvis Costello, in “Tramp the Dirt Down” (1989), promised “When they finally put you in the ground/I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.”

Literary depictions were hardly kinder. The Thatcher-era ethos was skewered in novels like Martin Amis’s “Money,” Jonathan Coe’s “What a Carve-Up!” and Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” (where she was mocked as “Mrs. Torture”). Other writers took more direct aim at the lady herself. Angela Carter once mocked her “braying tones” as reminiscent “not of real toffs but Wodehouse aunts.” In Alan Hollinghurst’s 2004 novel, “The Line of Beauty,” she shows up at an upper-class country-house party “looking like a country and western singer.”


Elias Groll | Foreign Policy

Unlike American historians — who love nothing more than to debate endlessly about who qualifies as the greatest U.S. president — the Brits have more of an aversion to this sort of ranking, and the first rigorous survey of British academics that examined the question of prime ministerial greatness was not carried out until 2004, by researchers at the University of Leeds. That study included all 20th-century premiers and crowned Clement Attlee the victor, with Thatcher finishing in fourth place.


Max Fisher | The Washington Post

Thatcher’s at-times aggressive anti-Soviet efforts led her to support some nasty but reliable dictatorships in an effort to isolate Moscow and contain its influence. This was a game that Washington and Moscow played as well, but the U.K. came to with special access to former colonies, as well as perhaps a special responsibility to serve them in kind. Now the Cold War is over but the U.K., and particularly Thatcher, are remembered in those countries, sometimes bitterly, as the friends of dictators.

She also sought to shore up the U.K.’s once-mighty foreign policy, as well as domestic faith in the nation’s strength, with shows of force and resolve that sometimes had harsh consequences in the limits of the former empire.

Most famously, Thatcher resisted global efforts to isolate Apartheid-era South Africa, including by vetoing sanctions. Though she opposed Apartheid as a policy, she still supported the government that implemented it, which was both a close trading partner and an anti-Communist bastion. She had dismissed Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress as “a typical terrorist organisation.” On his release from prison in 1990, Mandela sought a meeting with Thatcher to express his personal objections to U.K. policy on South Africa. Other ANC officials were so upset with Thatcher that they initially vetoed even that meeting at first.

. . . During her tenure, U.K. relations disintegrated with Nigeria, its most populous African colony. Partly this was over her government’s support of both South Africa and for the white-dominated government of Rhodesia, a former colony now known as Zimbabwe. Partly it was over oil. In 1979, maybe or maybe not in response to Thatcher’s decision to lift sanctions on Rhodesia (scholars don’t fully agree on this question), Nigeria nationalized the British Petroleum interests in its country. Relations, as Drew Hinshaw of the Wall Street Journal wrote, “never recovered.” In 1980, the wildly popular Nigerian musician Fela Kuti released an album with a horned and devil-eyed Thatcher snarling alongside Apartheid leaders.

. . . In Pakistan, she “best known for supporting General [Mohammed] Zia ul Haq’s military dictatorship,” according to Time correspondent Omar Waraich, referencing the military regime from 1978 to 1988. A video of Thatcher visiting Pakistan and enjoying curried goat with Zia is making the rounds today among Pakistani social media users.


Daniel Drezner | Foreign Policy

. . . consider the following two ways in which Thatcher has left a legacy in international relations theory:

1) Diversionary war. There’s a large literature in international relations on the notion of using war against a foreign adversary as a way to distract domestic opposition and/or bolster domestic support for a leader.
. . . The Falklands War represents the paradigmatic case of diversionary war theory for two reasons. First, almost every analysis of the conflicts attributes the Argentine junta’s growing domestic unpopularity as a key cause of their decision to launch the conflict (though, of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that). Second and more importantly, absent the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher would be remembered as a failed one-term prime minister. Victory over the Argentines in the South Atlantic enabled Thatcher to win re-election.

In truth, it’s far from clear that diversionary war is all that common a practice (if it was, we’d be drowning in conflicts since 2008). The Falklands War, however, does provide the paradigmatic case.

2) The spread of ideas. It’s fitting that the New York Times ran a story over the weekend about the boomlet in history about studying the growth of capitalism. Thatcher’s role in advancing the spread of free-market ideas to other policymakers was crucial. To explain why free-market capitalism became the pre-eminent idea in economic policymaking over the past few decades, you have to look at Thatcher. She preceded Reagan, becoming the first leader in the developed world to try to change her country’s variety of capitalism. Even after Reagan came to power, one could persuasively argue that Thatcher mattered more. As some international political economy scholars have noted, ideas and policies spread much faster when “supporter states” embrace them vigorously rather than reluctantly. Thatcher embraced capitalism with a near-religious fervor, acting as a vanguard for the rest of Europe on this front.


Joe Wiesenthal | Business Insider

Thatcher’s two autobiographies, “The Downing Street Years” (1993) and “The Path To Power” (1995) discussed the tactics she would use to argue against the EMU (Economic and Monetary Union), which she wanted no part of.

Basically, she outlined the problems with the euro perfectly, that Germany would chafe at the inevitable need for greater inflation, and that the poorer countries would inevitably be uncompetitive and need bailouts that would not easily be forthcoming.


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