What would the Iron Lady have done about North Korea?

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com

Memories and images of Margaret Thatcher and her legacy as displayed in the media this week evoke an obvious question: What would the Iron Lady have done about North Korea?

The answer would seem clear. It’s hard to imagine the woman who dispatched troops to the Falklands in 1982 having much patience with Kim Jong-Un. It’s easy to believe her patience would have run out long before the boy king ascended to the throne in Pyongyang. Surely she would have had a thing or two to say about his father Kim Jong-Il.

Another Iron Lady? South Korean President Park Geun-Hye delivers her inaugural address in Seoul.
Another Iron Lady? South Korean President Park Geun-Hye delivers her inaugural address in Seoul.

It’s not just Thatcher’s response to the Argentine takeover of the Falklands — a small war for a tiny portion of the Earth — that gives rise to this assumption. In her final days as prime minister in 1990 she advised President George H.W. Bush not to go “wobbly” about expelling the forces of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

Had she survived as prime minister, would she have also persuaded the first Bush president to fight all the way to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad rather than fall for a failed peace of aerial surveillance, no-fly zones and sanctions that would never work? Or would she have agreed that Bush I had more sense than his son, George W., who fell for reports of Saddam’s mystical nuclear program as the pretext to drive the villain totally out of power?

All the speculation is so hypothetical as possibly to seem pointless, but it’s difficult to imagine that Thatcher would have gone the way of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in soft-soaping the North Koreans. Who would believe she’d be off begging for “dialogue” and “negotiations” knowing all the talks all these years have been worse than pointless.

Yes, worse in the sense of giving rise to false hopes of reconciliation — and even, in the case of President Kim Dae-Jung’s failed Sunshine Policy, resulting in payoffs to the North that aided and abetted the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

The Iron Lady actually had a war to thank for her grip on power when Britain was still wallowing in economic difficulties from years of Labor rule. I was in London during the Falklands war, filing for papers in the U.S., avidly reading and sometimes rewriting the London papers.

What I remember best, though, was attending a performance of “Evita” and hearing the audience groan through “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and other numbers that seemed unbelievably timely — or maybe ill-timed.

Evita, of course, was all about another strong-willed female, Eva Peron, though comparisons between Eva and Margaret are flawed since Eva had died 32 years earlier at the age of 33. Eva’s husband, Juan Peron, died in 1974 before a military junta ushered in an era of bloodshed culminating in the dumb decision to go after the Falklands.

The most relevant, up-to-date comparison would have to be between Margaret Thatcher and Korea’s first female president, Park Geun-Hye. Although their backgrounds are totally different, Thatcher the daughter of a middle-class merchant and local politico, Park the daughter of a long-ruling dictator.

Think about it — philosophical soulmates, both conservative, both advocates of tough policies against evil adversaries. Park, however, faces a much more severe challenge than Thatcher ever did. She may have to decide whether to order a sharp escalation of the conflict, that is, counter-attack against targets on North Korean soil, if Kim Jong-Un and his advisers press the button on any of their weapons ranged against the South.

As a journalist, I’ve met both Thatcher and Park — briefly. While with USA Today I encountered Thatcher in the British embassy in Washington while she was in D.C. to meet her friend, President Reagan, in I think 1984.

The meeting was accidental. The Brits had arranged a media briefing. The briefing got postponed; no one knew where we were supposed to be, and then Thatcher unexpectedly showed up. She responded clearly, energetically, to whatever we were asking while a press attaché tried to shoo us away.

The only other time I encountered Thatcher was after the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule in 1997. She was in the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel, tired and aging but glad to chat.

I’ve encountered Park a number of times. She too speaks forcefully as she navigates policy against forces that may not be rational. Park has yet to earn the soubriquet, “Iron Lady” but might draw inspiration from the example of the original Iron Lady — or at least observe her advice to Bush I and not go “wobbly” in face of the foe.