According to George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State from 1982 to 1989, the U.S. president and Margaret Thatcher were “ideological soul mates.” The two global leaders, who were close allies during the course of their eight overlapping years in office, shared the same instincts, same world views and in particular, same ideologies regarding the Cold War and the vitality of the Western economies.
The two of them shared a good relationship — he once called her “the best man in England,” and she once said that he was “the second most important man in my life.”
Thatcher often lauded Reagan for being a man who did not doubt himself, but instead was assertive and instinctive. This was something, she said, “which has assailed so many politicians in our times and which has rendered them incapable of clear decisions.” And, in return, Reagan enjoyed that she was confident and was fun to both laugh with, and argue with.
However, like all relationships, they faced their ups and downs. Contention arose over issues such as the Falklands War, in which the British did not receive support from the U.S., and the invasion of Grenada a year later in which the U.S. was abandoned by the British.
In the case of the Falklands War, the two disagreed over how deal with the conflict. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, Reagan had insisted upon peaceful negotiations whereas strong-headed Thatcher was more inclined towards claiming what she believed belonged to her country, even if it meant using military force. Thatcher was stung by Reagan’s stance and his resistance to help her, and felt profoundly let down by one of her closest friend and ally.
A year later, Britain was angered by Reagan’s decision to invade the Commonwealth island of Grenada, following a bloody coup, and Thatcher tried to dissuade him from military action. The Pentagon, however, expressed a “sense of outrage” that she refused to support them.
Regardless of the ups-and-downs, both Thatcher and Reagan enjoyed each other’s company immensely and would stop at nothing just to see each other for a few hours, including a trip she once took from Beijing to Washington.
In 1988, Thatcher was also the last head of government to visit Washington for a state visit while Reagan was still president. That was done so deliberately, says Shultz. The Reagan administration, as a whole, admired her so much that they wanted to honor her in return, as well, for her steadfast alliance to the U.S. and to Reagan.