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Kashmeri: Lady Thatcher

03/15/12 7:55AM By Sarwar Kashmeri
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(Host) In his work as an international business and national security specialist, commentator Sarwar Kashmeri has encountered quite a few memorable characters. He says a  film currently in theaters has reminded him of one who made a particularly strong impression.

(Kashmeri) Meryl Streep's dazzling performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady was a trip down memory lane for me.

In one scene Streep as Thatcher faces down General Alexander Haig, then Secretary of State. Haig had been dispatched to London by President Reagan to talk Thatcher out of sending the Royal Navy to evict the Argentineans from their invasion of the British owned Falkland Islands. At their meeting, the ramrod straight general, surrounded by a phalanx of American military and diplomatic big-wigs laid on the pressure to make the Prime Minister back down.

Thatcher heard him out and then retorted with such force that there was not much left afterward of Haig or his argument. "Now would you like some tea?" Thatcher sweetly asked Haig as she transformed herself from thundering prime minister to gentle school teacher.

I once witnessed a similar transformation myself.

On a balmy spring evening in 1997 Lady Thatcher and I were being driven down Park Avenue in New York City to attend a dinner at the Union League Club where I had the honor of being her host for the evening. We were sitting in the back seat together, chatting away about American culture, books, leaders she admired, and so on. The former Prime Minister was gracious and charming until I mentioned the peace dividend.

This was the money that could theoretically be cut from American and European defense budgets after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I recall saying something like, wasn't it nice that other government programs might now get more money.

In an instant, Thatcher turned around and with a raised finger said, "Now young man, that is not the kind of idea you should ever entertain." I found myself looking into a pair of cold, blue eyes that locked me in their steely, unwavering gaze. "The world is still a very dangerous place," she said, "and the West cannot afford to let its guard down. The peace dividend is a dangerous idea, and you must never even think about it. Never!"

I felt as if I'd personally jeopardized the future of the Free World - and, I imagine - rather like General Haig must have felt for proposing something that Thatcher considered to be so patently absurd.

After a minute or so, the fire and brimstone look disappeared from Lady Thatcher's eyes, her finger returned to her lap, and her voice dropped a few decibels. She looked out the window again, and I took a deep breath and pulled myself together. Then we continued on to the dinner, chatting as though this Thatcherian episode had never occurred.

Lady Thatcher's remarkable transformation in that car had always been impossible for me to fully describe until I watched Meryl Streep's masterful performance. Now all I have to do is to remind my friends of the scene in which General Haig attempts to tell Prime Minister Thatcher what to do - and they immediately understand.
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