Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship.
Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship. By Richard Aldous. (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2012. Pp. 342. $27.50.)
When picturing the 1980s, the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher quickly comes to mind. The two political conservatives came to power around the same time, each vowing to dismantle the welfare state at home and resolutely defend the West from the communist threat. Given their similar beliefs, it seemed only natural that they should share a "special relationship," like that of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill during World War II. It was an oft-referenced image at the time (something Reagan and Thatcher themselves cultivated) and remains in the popular imagination today.
Richard Aldous seeks to dispel this popular myth in his new book based upon recently released documents and oral histories. As the title suggests, the Reagan-Thatcher relationship was not special but was instead a difficult one for both sides. Rather than being the expected compatible match, the two leaders and their governments disagreed, and sharply, on most issues, and for those who follow international events of the time, this is not a surprise.
Aldous begins with Reagan's and Thatcher's backgrounds as political outsiders and then details the development of their conservative views and the role that ideas served in their battle against communism. By the time each made their ascent to power, it seemed the two were well-matched partners. However, the honeymoon ended quickly, and the disagreements began to pile up. These policy differences form the heart of the book as Aldous proceeds chronologically through the Reagan-Thatcher years, examining where and how American and British interests especially diverged--American sanctions on building a Soviet pipeline in the wake of Poland's declaration of martial law, the British decision to go to war over the Falkland Islands, the US invasion of Grenada, arms control, and how to approach the Soviet Union. Though well documented and presented, at times the work reads like a catalog of policy arguments between allies and how they were resolved both publicly and privately. Nevertheless, Aldous effectively demonstrates that this relationship was more complex and thorny than many believed.
Aldous further establishes that though Reagan and Thatcher worked hard to give the appearance of a special relationship (it is never clearly explained why they did), there never really was one. The fact of the matter was that Britain was the junior partner to the more powerful United States and was treated as such. When the two agreed, it was because they had overlapping political and ideological interests; when they did not, Thatcher was forced to bend or back down. Even so, both Reagan and Thatcher come off quite well, but the latter does especially so as Aldous demonstrates that, without a doubt, Thatcher, though oftentimes having to play the supportive role, nonetheless fought tirelessly and forcefully to protect British interests even when they conflicted with those of her larger and more powerful ally.
In the end, Aldous accomplishes what he set out to do--examine the Reagan-Thatcher relationship in all its complexities. This highly readable book ought to find a wide audience amongst scholars and the general public alike.