reply to post by NoMatterNeverMind
I suspect, however, that the citizens of countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Iraq, South Africa and Chile might disagree. The
inconvenient truth for Thatcher fans is that the freedom-loving, democracy-defending British premier was a close friend and admirer of the thugs,
thieves, despots and racists who ruled over those nations in the 1980s.
"In Pakistan, Margaret Thatcher was best known for supporting General Zia ul Haq's military dictatorship," tweeted Time magazine's Pakistan
correspondent Omar Waraich yesterday, referring to the Iron Lady's anticommunist alliance with the country's vicious, Islamist dictator. In a speech
at a banquet hosted by Zia in 1981, Thatcher praised the general's "courage and skill" and toasted "the health and happiness of His Excellency".
She made no reference to the need for democracy or elections in the self-styled 'Islamic Republic".
Consider also the case of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Remember the infamous Al Yamamah arms deal with the corrupt and totalitarian Saudis, signed by
the Thatcher government in the mid-eighties and described by the Campaign Against The Arms Trade (CAAT) as "the largest ever UK arms contract with a
foreign customer" and by the Financial Times as "the biggest [UK] sale ever of anything to anyone"? Well, she was just batting for British
business, right? Wrong. Thatcher shamelessly praised the Saudi regime, an absolute monarchy and exporter of Islamist terror, as "a strong force for
moderation and stability" at a Chatham House conference in 1993, three years after leaving office. "I am a great admirer of Saudi Arabia," she
proclaimed, adding: "I have no intention of meddling in that country's internal affairs." How the repressed women of Saudi Arabia, denied not just
the right to vote but the right to drive, must have cheered this supposed feminist icon back in 1993.
How about General Suharto of Indonesia, whose 32-year dictatorship was rightly described by the New York Times as "one of the most brutal and corrupt
of the 20th century"? Suharto's military coup in 1965 was followed by the torture and killing of around 500,000 suspected Communists in Indonesia;
his invasion and occupation of East Timor in 1975 resulted in the deaths of around 250,000 men, women and children on the island - yet the
liberty-loving Thatcher later celebrated this blood-soaked Indonesian tyrant as "one of our very best and most valuable friends".
How about the bloodiest dictator of them all, Saddam Hussein? According to investigative reporters David Leigh and Rob Evans, it was on Thatcher's
watch that "£1bn of Whitehall money was thrown away in propping up Saddam Hussein's regime and doing favours for arms firms".
In fact, we now know that the Thatcher government began selling arms - sorry, "non-lethal equipment" that just happened to include spare parts for
tanks and fighter jets - to Iraq as early as 1981. A letter from junior minister Thomas Trenchard to the PM in that same year explained how a meeting
with Saddam would represent "a significant step forward in establishing a working relationship with Iraq which ... should produce both political and
major commercial benefits". Thatcher's response? "Very pleased" she scribbled by hand at the top of Trenchard's letter.
Seven years later, after the Baathist dictator deployed chemical weapons in his now-notorious attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, Thatcher did not
merely turn a blind eye to the atrocity; she and her ministers actively played down reports that the Iraqi regime had used poison gas against its own
people. "Within a month of the Halabja attack," wrote US investigative journalist Barry Lando in his book on Iraq, 'Web of Deceit', "Thatcher's
trade secretary, Tony Newton, was in Baghdad to offer Saddam 340 million pounds of British export credits."
This, I guess, is how liberty is championed and freedom is secured.
Then there's apartheid South Africa, where millions of black people were denied the most basic of liberties - and yet this British champion of
liberty had little to offer them by way of support. "Thatcher resisted global efforts to isolate apartheid-era South Africa, including by vetoing
sanctions," wrote the Washington Post's foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher yesterday. "Though she opposed apartheid as a policy, she still
supported the government that implemented it..."
In fact, in 1984, Thatcher defied tens of thousands of anti-apartheid demonstrators and invited P.W. Botha to Chequers: the first South African
premier to visit the UK since his country's departure from the Commonwealth in 1961.
Oh, and who can forget her despicable description of Nelson Mandela's ANC as a "typical terrorist organisation"? Is it any wonder then that Dali
Tambo, son of the former ANC president Oliver Tambo, told the Guardian that "it's quite likely that when Margaret Thatcher reaches the pearly gates,
the ANC will boycott the occasion". It's a shame, he noted, "that we could never call her one of the champions of the liberation struggle".
Apologists for the Iron Lady tend to excuse such shameful and anti-democratic behaviour by their heroine by invoking realpolitik and citing the
backdrop of the Cold War and the struggle against Soviet communism.
Such arguments are both disingenuous and unconvincing. They don't, for a start, explain Thatcher's close, personal friendship with Augusto Pinochet,
which continued long after the Cold War had ended and long after both leaders had left office? The Chilean general presided over a 17-year reign of
terror in which a minimum of 3,000 people were killed or 'disappeared', tens of thousands were imprisoned and tortured and hundreds of thousands
were forced into exile.
Yet in 1999, when Pinochet was arrested and detained in London on a Spanish warrant, Thatcher - who, in the words of Virginia Bottomley, believed in
"the power of liberty" and "the rule of law" - visited Pinochet at the former dictator's rented Surrey mansion to thank him for "bringing
democracy to Chile" and to denounce his arrest as "unjust and callous". There was no mention of the 'desaparecidos' (disappeared) from our former
prime minister on that particular occasion.
"She recognised... the benefits of the military government," declared retired Chilean general and
Pinochet underling Guillermo Garin yesterday, adding: "President Pinochet always had tremendous admiration for her, they had a very close
relationship highlighted by the visit she made to his place of detention in London."
Forget the row over who gets credit for the fall of the Soviet Union - Mikhail Gorbachev or Reagan and Thatcher. If (wo)man is judged by the company
(s)he keeps, then Thatcher - self-professed friend to generals Pinochet, Suharto and Zia, ally of Saddam Hussein, admirer of the Saudi royals, soft on
apartheid - must be judged a champion of despotism and dictatorship, not of freedom or liberty. The historical record is so clear and indisputable
that to believe otherwise is wilful blindness.