Saturday, June 2, 2007

When Thatcher outsmarted Reagan

A very interesting entry at the blog of one of my favourite columnists from the "other side," Judy Klinghoffer. It tells of one of the areas where Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher disagreed with one another. We knew, of course, they were at odds on the environment. Thatcher saw the problem for what it was while Reagan believed that trees caused acid rain rather than acting as a sink to reduce its effects. Then, there was the Falkland Islands. And it wound up proving one of Bob McNamara's eleven principles: Number nine -- "In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil."

We've now learned from the secret Reagan diaries that his widow Nancy published a few weeks ago that Reagan was working behind the scenes to save the military junta in Buenos Aires -- the regime that tried to take over the Malvinas, the same regime that made thousands of people in Argentina "disappear."

Note the entries from April 14, where Reagan countered a claim by Carl Bernstein (then still at the Washington Post) that the US was lending military aid to Britain -- which wasn't true. And May 13, where Reagan tried to persuade Thatcher against further military action (the battle was then an air and sea one) but was unable to persuade her against a land invasion to take back the British territory (which happened eight days later).

Why would Reagan secretly support the junta? My guess is he was afraid of losing access to Argentina's natural resources. Same old story, what it's always about -- why America continues to back the dictatorships that pervade much of the Middle East and South Asia; while it turned a blind eye to the massacre in Rwanda and Burundi, and more significantly during the Reagan years why Ronnie was reticent (at first) about sanctions against South Africa.

Thatcher, however, stood on a principle: The Falklands may not have been of much strategic value but they clearly belonged to Britain and they had to be defended. Lives were going to be lost and were lost but the bigger principle was that Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, the Argentine "President," was a wicked man and deserved to be taught a lesson. To do good (liberate the Falklanders) she would have to do evil (risk the lives of her country's servicepeople).

We know how it ended: The Falklands were free and eventually the people of Argentina, fed up by the idea they were humiliated by their leadership, took matters into their own hands and overthrew the junta. Today, Argentina has its economic problems but it has a rather healthy democracy. More important, its armed services are under civilian control -- one of the keys to a democratic state.

And it was because of Margaret Thatcher, not Ronald Reagan. Had Reagan had his way, people would still be disappearing in Argentina and other countries in South America. So don't give me the shtick that Reagan, Thatcher and the former Pope liberated Eastern Europe. It's not true, the people did it themselves. As far as South America was concerned, Reagan and to a lesser extent Wojtyla were happy with things just the way they were while Thatcher wasn't. And it was one of the few times Thatcher was correct.

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