They may have been soulmates, but the special relationship of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher never did run smooth.
The passage of time often simplifies history. Complex, multifaceted stories are easily distilled into a straightforward narrative which suggests that things were easier, neater, or simpler than they actually were. At their best, historians restore the nuance and detail that would otherwise be lost and leave us with a richer and more complete understanding of past events.
The relationship between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan is a case in point. The conventional wisdom is that the two leaders were “ideological soul mates” who worked tirelessly to win the Cold War. From the beginning of their working relationship, their public comments about the “special relationship” between Great Britain and the United States were extraordinarily generous, even by the standards of diplomats.
But Reagan and Thatcher, a wonderful new book by Bard College professor Richard Aldous, makes clear that their alliance was far more challenging and complex than is widely recognized. It was, as the book’s subtitle proclaims, “The Difficult Relationship.”
The two leaders first met in the mid-1970s before either had assumed power and discovered that their core convictions were nearly identical: a belief in free markets, low taxes and limited government, commitment to a strong national defense, and an assertive, muscular approach to dealing with the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. Most of all, they wanted to win the war of ideas with the Soviet Union that valued state planning over individual freedom.
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