Honoring Maggie

By

I HOPE someone in the White House or Congress has the wit and imagination to dream up some special way of honoring Margaret Thatcher. The British themselves hand out ``gongs'' - medals and orders - to honor both Britons and Americans who have made significant contributions to the Anglo-American alliance.

There ought to be a way - Honorary citizenship? A special medal? A fund created in her name to encourage Anglo-American understanding? - for America to say thanks to someone who has done so much to ally Britain with the United States on matters of principle.

When the Soviets, in the bad old days, installed new nuclear missiles against Western Europe, and NATO asked the Americans to deploy intermediate nuclear missiles in response, it was Mrs. Thatcher who stood firm against the protesting leftist clamor in Britain.

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When Libya's Qadaffi was caught fomenting terrorist attacks against Americans, it was Mrs. Thatcher, risking political criticism at home, who authorized the retaliatory American air sorties to be made from bases in Britain.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, it was Mrs. Thatcher, first among allies, to support President Bush and send what are for Britain significant military forces to Saudi Arabia.

Margaret Thatcher bullied, cajoled, inspired her people to support the US when she believed the US was right. She understood that there was a moral significance to the alliance uniting the principles and values of the two nations.

And it was that unlikely odd couple, Thatcher and Ronald Reagan - she exuding English hauteur, he the ingenuous, open-faced American - that strengthened the Anglo-American alliance.

When Argentina invaded the Falklands, she sent an armada thousands of miles to oust the occupying forces. For some windswept terrain, and a handful of islanders, and a few sheep, it was an extraordinary investment in men, money, and political standing. But there was a principle involved; one country should not seize another country's territory, however small.

When the mining unions in Britain threatened to break her, Mrs. Thatcher stood tough and won. Another stand for principle: The unions should not be allowed to overthrow the rule of law.

When the Irish Republican Army demolished her hotel with a bomb blast, Mrs. Thatcher emerged unhurt, immaculately coiffed, and icily contemptuous of their terrorist tactics.

Just as derisive of communism's failings, it was nevertheless Mrs. Thatcher who first saw in Mikhail Gorbachev a ``man we can work with.'' She prodded the Soviets on human rights, urged economic reforms, and worked to bring the Soviets into the community of nations.

Yet as Europe changed and Britain faced the challenge of integrating with it, Mrs. Thatcher dragged her heels, shunning the idea of a common currency and the other unifying developments that would, in her view, undermine Britain's sovereignty.

Much of her Conservative Party thought her wrong. But in the end, it was perhaps her style more than her viewpoint that brought her down. Clearly she could often be patronizing and intolerant of contrary opinions.

I have seen Mrs. Thatcher putting down UPI's White House reporter Helen Thomas - a doughty dueler in her own right - with a ``no time for silly questions like that now, dear.''

I have seen her backing Germany's stalwart Chancellor Kohl up against a conference room wall and lecturing him, her finger in his chest, for lack of political gumption. I have even seen her physically pushing and pulling members of the British royal family to get them in position for some ceremonial event.

But I have also seen her - late one night in Delhi, in the study of the British mission, after the emotionally draining funeral of Indira Gandhi - speaking for hours with a sense of vision and compassion about the world.

Strengths and failings aside, her admiration and support for the US clearly deserves some special recognition.

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