Almost no one today remembers Margaret Thatcher's long history with Iraq. But few people beyond Saddam Hussein played a greater role in shredding the country into tiny little pieces. Here are some highlights:
Despite Thatcher's government being officially neutral in the Iran-Iraq war, and having voted for a UN Security Council resolution calling on all countries not to further escalate the conflict, she was eager to sell Saddam Hussein's government as many British weapons as possible:
One prime-ministerial brief recommended that the best way to avoid public condemnation but to still make money from Iraq was to sell only non-lethal equipment but to “define this narrowly”.
“Contracts worth over £150m have been concluded [with Iraq] in the last six months including one for £34m (for armoured recovery vehicles through Jordan),” writes Thomas Trenchard, a junior minister, in a secret letter to Mrs Thatcher in March 1981.
The letter also says that a meeting with Saddam Hussein “represent a significant step forward in establishing a working relationship with Iraq which ... should produce both political and major commercial benefits”.
Mrs Thatcher wrote by hand at the top of the letter that she was “very pleased” by the progress being made.
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait almost certainly never would have happened without American and British support for Iraq during the eighties. And even once it happened, it likely could have been reversed without war. But Thatcher was instrumental in making sure Iraqis would be punished for having a leader who disobeyed orders and was getting too big for his britches:
Thatcher Reminds Bush: 'Don't Go Wobbly'
On Aug. 2, 1990, the morning after Iraq occupied Kuwait, Mr. Bush told reporters: "We're not contemplating intervention. I'm not contemplating such action."
Then he flew to Aspen, Colo.
There he met Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister. They talked for hours.
That afternoon, at a joint press conference, Mr. Bush condemned "naked aggression" and said he was considering "the next steps needed to end the invasion."
In a strange and underappreciated way, Thatcher also played a key role in motivating George W. Bush to invade Iraq:
According to [favored Bush family biographer Mickey] Herskowitz, George W. Bush's beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House – ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. "Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade."
Bush's circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: "They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches."
Beyond her indirect influence on Bush, Jr., Thatcher also directly called for the invasion of Iraq in a July 17, 2002 Wall Street Journal op-ed, which featured her trademark combination of total factual inaccuracy and bloodthirstiness:
Don't Go Wobbly
Saddam must go... It is clear to anyone willing to face reality that the only reason Saddam took the risk of refusing to submit his activities to U.N. inspectors was that he is exerting every muscle to build WMD.
Finally, just like all great leaders, Thatcher was willing to rewrite her own history at a moment's notice when useful. After it became clear the invasion of Iraq was a catastrophe even for the interests she cared about, Thatcher pretended she never supported it in the first place:
The former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Lord Palumbo, who lunched with Mrs. T six months ago, told me recently what she said when he asked her if, given the intelligence at the time, she would have made the decision to invade Iraq. "I was a scientist before I was a politician, Peter," she told him carefully. "And as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof – and then you check, recheck and check again. The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return."