What Thatcher thought about Ge­orge Bush

The Scotsman - - Scottish Perspective -

Within my short col­lec­tion of “I was there at mo­ments which changed his­tory”, I would count a de­bate be­tween Ron­ald Rea­gan and Ge­orge Bush in Nashua, New Hamp­shire, in Jan­uary 1984.

Bush was seen as a shoo-in for the Re­pub­li­can nom­i­na­tion. Rea­gan spon­sored the de­bate and, un­known to Bush, in­vited other hope­fuls to ap­pear. Bush protested, Rea­gan said pi­ously there was no way he would al­low his fel­low-repub­li­cans to be ex­cluded.

It was a clas­sic stunt. When the mod­er­a­tor, the ed­i­tor of the Nashua Tele­graph, asked Rea­gan to con­clude his homily and hand back the mi­cro­phone, Rea­gan de­liv­ered the clas­sic one-liner: “Mr Mod­er­a­tor, I paid for this mi­cro­phone.” If there is one thing Amer­i­cans un­der­stand, it is en­ti­tle­ment be­stowed by money.

How they cheered! That mo­ment changed the cam­paign and his­tory. Polling swung ve­he­mently to­wards Rea­gan and never moved back. I can still pic­ture Bush emerg­ing from the hall, like a boxer hit by a sucker punch, com­plain­ing of Rea­gan’s un­gentle­manly con­duct.

Ten months later, I hap­pened to be in the right ho­tel lobby when Bush was sum­moned from his slum­bers to be told that Rea­gan had, quite un­ex­pect­edly, made him his run­ning-mate. Eight years after that, the old CIA man duly as­cended to the throne.

My next en­counter with Ge­orge Bush was in 2001 when I rep­re­sented HM Govern­ment at the tenth an­niver­sary of Kuwait’s lib­er­a­tion. My fel­low pas­sen­ger was Lady Thatcher, by then in repet­i­tive mode. “We’ve got to stand by them,” she ad­vised me, of the Kuwaitis. I was happy to con­cur.

“We should have fin­ished the job,” she de­clared (for the first of many times). Again, I agreed (and had said so at the time). If Sad­dam Hus­sein had been re­moved in re­sponse to bla­tant ag­gres­sion, much sub­se­quent trou­ble might have been avoided.

“But I was gone by then,” Lady Thatcher con­tin­ued with splen­didly undi­luted ran­cour, set­ting the scene for some en­ter­tain­ing en­coun­ters once her suc­ces­sor John Ma­jor flew in with Bush – the two ar­chi­tects of not pro­ceed­ing to Bagh­dad. Later in the flight, we con­tin­ued our con­ver­sa­tion with the same one-lin­ers in ev­i­dence but there was one ad­di­tional thrust of the dag­ger. “Dear Ge­orge Bush,” in­toned Lady Thatcher. “But such a weak man.”

It is a sen­ti­ment far re­moved from this week’s ob­se­quies in Wash­ing­ton and when you look at what’s there now, weak­ness was not the worst in­sult to throw at a Pres­i­dent.

Mar­garet Thatcher meets the then Vice-pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush

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