Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a world leader for her country unparalleled since Winston Churchill during World War II, according to a local expert on the European Union and European politics.
Government Professor Roy H. Ginsberg of Skidmore College has spent considerable time in Europe over the past two decades studying and writing about the European Union.
The international stature of Thatcher, who died Monday at 87, was elevated greatly by the British victory in the Falklands War and later by her close relationship with President Ronald Reagan and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union.
Her decision to battle military dictators from Argentina in the Falklands War of 1982 earned her the nickname “The Iron Lady.”
She went to war to keep the Falkland Islands in the United Kingdom rather than controlled by Argentinian military leaders.
At home, Thatcher was a free-market conservative whose privatization of British-run rail, airline, and telecommunications companies was controversial but eventually successful, Ginsberg said.
“She was not just an Iron Lady, she was a pragmatic lady,” Ginsberg said.
She was not a proponent of the European Union in the 1980s but realized the union could open the European marketplace to more British goods. This led her to sign the Single European Act in 1987.
Ginsberg also credited Thatcher with understanding early that Mikhail Gorbachev was trying to reform the Soviet Union and was open to compromise with the West. She convinced her friend, President Reagan, that Gorbachev was “a person we could work with,” Ginsberg said.
“In 20th century British history, she will go down as one of the greatest prime ministers,” Ginsberg said.
He said her three terms as Britain’s first woman prime minister were historic.
“She cast a long shadow over the end of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century,” Ginsberg said.
Ginsberg did not think the movie “The Iron Lady” (2011 with Meryl Streep) did justice to Thatcher, showing her in an unfavorable light as an old, sick woman.
“She was resilient and remarkable,” Ginsberg said about Thatcher.
He said he never met Thatcher in person but was a careful observer of her career as he studied and wrote about the European Union. Ginsberg is chairman of Skidmore’s government department and an internationally known scholar on the European Union.