OTR Interviews

Cheney remembers former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as 'decisive' leader, 'elegant,' true ally of the US

Remembering the 'Iron Lady': Former vice president gives insight on working relationship with historic former British prime minister, reflects on her life and legacy


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 8, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Prime Minister, there will always be an England, but there can never be another Margaret Thatcher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think people forget now what a ground-breaking figure she was, not just for women, though certainly for them, but as the first female prime minister.

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Margaret ended our first meeting by telling me, We must stand together. And that's exactly what we've done.

MARGARET THATCHER, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: For those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase "the U-turn," I have only one thing to say. You turn, if you want to.


THATCHER: The lady's not for turning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't just lead our country, she saved our country.

THATCHER: I stand before you tonight in my red star chiffon evening gown...


THATCHER: ... my face softly made up and my fair hair gently waved...


THATCHER: ... the "Iron Lady" of the Western world!



GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, a special edition of "On the Record," U.S. leaders paying tribute to the "Iron Lady," former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. We will talk with former vice president Dick Cheney. He says she was a rock star.

Margaret Thatcher was the longest-serving and only female prime minister in Britain's history, and today she died at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke.

Now, here in the U.S., former prime minister Thatcher was known for her legendary partnership with President Ronald Reagan. We spoke with the former vice president earlier tonight.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Vice President, nice to see you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, today the people in Britain, they say they either loved or loathed her, former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. What are your memories of her? What -- what do you remember?

CHENEY: Well, put me in the loved camp. I had enormous respect and regard for Prime Minister Thatcher. She was a great lady but a tremendous leader, too.

I remember in the early days of Desert Storm, when we were first dealing with Saddam's invasion of Kuwait -- this was 20 years ago -- president sent me to Saudi Arabia the first weekend of the crisis to talk to King Fahad to get permission for us to deploy troops to the gulf, in the desert, to Saudi Arabia.

And after the conversation -- I got his approval -- I called the president back in the Oval Office to get his authorization so I could go ahead and deploy the force. And Margaret Thatcher was there at the same time in the Oval Office.

And a couple of months later then, I was in London. I was on my way to Moscow. But I stopped into number 10 Downing Street to pay my respects. And it was absolutely one of the most fascinating hours I ever spent. She kicked out all the staff and kept in me and Tom King, who was my British counterpart, and talked about what became Desert Storm and how you dealt with that kind of a crisis, basing her experiences in the Falklands 10 years before in 1982.

VAN SUSTEREN: But there's that famous quote where, apparently, she told President Bush 41 not to go wobbly.

CHENEY: That's not -- not true.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's not true?

CHENEY: Not true, no.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's a falsehood.

CHENEY: An old wives' story. There was never any doubt about what the president was doing. He didn't need any backing up.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why was that so fascinating, spending that time with her?

CHENEY: She was -- she had a grasp of the situation, the kind of thing we were dealing with. We were trying to send thousands of troops halfway around the world to deal with the very significant military problem.

She had the problems and obviously far smaller force, but down all the way across the Atlantic to take back the Falklands after Argentina had invaded -- problems of public policy, of relationships with the military, especially public opinion, how do you marshal public opinion to support a democracy and an effort to mount a significant military campaign, those kinds of discussions that we had that afternoon.

But as I say, it was like sitting in a classroom with a professor or an expert, you know, somebody who had really had firsthand experience in doing that kind of thing and was obviously also someone who really wanted to see us succeed, a great friend and ally of the United States. As I say, it was one of the most interesting hours I spent certainly in the run-up to Desert Storm.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the Soviets, I think -- the Soviet journalists tagged her the "Iron Lady," which I think is a description she much appreciated. She liked that description.

CHENEY: She did.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, we on the outside who didn't know her have sort of an impression of her as being a real tough woman, and always the private side of a person is very different. What was she like in private?

CHENEY: Well, I don't think of it as tough. She was more elegant than that. She was -- without question, she was very decisive. She'd make up her mind and she'd act. And you didn't want to get crossways with her. I would not have wanted to take on Margaret Thatcher in the house of Parliament. That would have been a tough proposition.

But she was always a lady also. I mean, she -- I can remember she came on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. And we always had special ceremonies at the White House on those days. And she came downstairs. We went down into the ground floor there on the White House. And there's a room next to the diplomatic reception room where they have the maps that FDR used in World War II framed on the wall.

And I can remember standing there with Lady Thatcher, Prime Minister Thatcher, looking at the maps and talking about D-Day and what had transpired in World War II.

She was -- she conveyed this aura of knowing what needed to be done and being willing to do it, no matter what the political cost. I mean, I think of what she did, for example, for the British economy. She took over as prime minister after several years of a Labourite government that was socialist in terms of its leaning and the kinds of policies they'd put in place.

And when she took over, the British economy was in terrible shape. She turned it around. She privatized large parts of the economy that had been, in effect, nationalized during the years when the opposition party had been in power.

Sometimes I think of her when I think of the task that is going to be ahead of us after Obama leaves office. I happen to think Barack Obama's taking us in the wrong direction. I think his health care policies and so forth, nationalizing the health care system or something close to it, 16 percent of the economy -- that we're going to have -- whoever replaces him is going to have some very difficult tasks ahead of them. And the model that Maggie Thatcher established back in the '80s and in Britain is one thing they want to look at.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, she certainly seemed determined when she came in in 1979 and changed things, whether you're for it against it, for the Brits. And then there was, of course, the miners' strike was quite a big deal in recent British history. And I think people say she won the miners' strike.

CHENEY: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so that, I mean, certainly is part of her legacy to see how she even dealt with labor.

CHENEY: Sure. But you know, she made major decisions, fundamental change in the direction of domestic policy, dealt with the international situation. Britain was -- U.K. was a very, very significant player in those years, partly because of her relationship with Ronald Reagan, partly because we went through that period of time as the cold war was starting to wind down. So she was a rock, if you will, in terms of how she dealt with those domestic problems. She managed to marshal public support for fundamental change in direction domestically, but she was also a major player internationally.

VAN SUSTEREN: We always read about the close relationship between former President Reagan and the prime minister. Was it as close -- I mean, do you know, was it as closely as it certainly appeared on the outside?

CHENEY: That's certainly my impression. I was never in a meeting with the two of them. I can remember later when she came, I was still vice president. She came to receive an award from the Heritage Society, and they asked me to present it to her that night, which I was happy to do.

But she was then obviously some time away from her time in politics and had written her book, and so forth. But she was a rock star. She was somebody that everybody had enormous respect and admiration for. And a lot of that was based upon the way President Reagan treated her. She was always welcome, obviously, in those years. And the two of them, partly because of, I think, their philosophy about government's role in the society was very similar -- they clearly hit it off.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's funny, I listened to British reports today on BBC and all of a sudden sort of randomly, someone will stick into it, Well, we had a woman leader before the United States. They're very -- the British are very proud of that.

CHENEY: Yes, well, they should be. She was the longest-serving prime minister in the 20th century.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dealing with Gorbachev -- she said he was a man that she could do business with. What was her role in the fall of the Soviet Union?

CHENEY: Well, I think it was very significant partly because she stood by President Reagan. And I always felt that what he did, for example, with respect to what was then called "star wars," the strategic defense initiative, was a very important element in persuading the Soviets that they could not keep up with modern American military capabilities, that that was partly what forced them ultimately to end the cold war, if you will.

And -- but she also -- I think there was a respect between she and Gorbachev, the kind of respect that developed eventually between Reagan and Gorbachev. They were willing -- Reagan and Thatcher were willing to take advantage of the situation and knew how to engage with Gorbachev ultimately. I mean, they were tough on the one hand, as Ronald Reagan clearly was when he went to Berlin and said, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. On the other hand, they were willing to deal with him. Trust, but verify.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, on days like this, we try to celebrate people. We don't usually -- we don't try to tear them apart. We'll leave that for the next day or for longer in history.


VAN SUSTEREN: But I'm curious, do you think she'd want a do-over on anything in terms of -- I mean, there was the -- the apartheid in South Africa and how Britain dealt with that. Do you think she'd want a do-over?

CHENEY: Oh, I don't know of any. She certainly never confided in me that she wished she'd done something different. But I wasn't that close to her. I mean, it was a professional relationship, and I had the great good fortune of being able to be with her on a number of occasions.

But she doesn't strike me as the kind of person who would want to do do-over, so to speak. She made her decisions. They were tough decisions. She was decisive. And then she carried them out. I think if you were spending all your time trying to figure out how you wished you'd done something over again, you wouldn't have been able to deal with the next crisis.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think she liked the job as prime minister? I mean, some people do it out of a sense of duty, some thing, Well, I'm -- you know, How can I resist doing something like this? And some people truly feel they're on some sort of mission for their country.

CHENEY: Well, I'd put her more in the mission category. I think she was involved not out of a sort of sense of personal ambition. I mean, she broke all kinds of new ground as the first woman prime minister in Britain. But what motivated her was her deep belief in a certain set of values and principles that she used to guide her development of policy, or processes, or method, if you will, of addressing difficult issues.

She believed very strongly in a strong national offense and acted on it in the Falklands -- in the private sector, in the free economy. So I think she acted out of conviction.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, she certainly turned the economic direction around. I mean -- I mean, it went from a bigger government to a smaller government when she became prime minister. So she was very determined that way.

CHENEY: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: And nothing was going to stop her, I don't think.

CHENEY: Nobody did.


VAN SUSTEREN: No one did. That's indeed right. No one did stop her. I'm curious, though, in terms of the economy, how it's turned out for Britain -- do you think that -- I mean, obviously I know you're a small government man, low tax (INAUDIBLE) But I'm curious what you think would happened in Britain had she not been the prime minister.

CHENEY: Well, I don't know. I always thought, for example, she was right about the euro, her reluctance to see Britain sort of get sucked in, if you will, to some of the policies that the advocates of sort of a one Europe policy were attracted to. I thought she had her -- that she understood that what they were trying to do might well not work out. And if you look at the situation today in terms of the Europeans trying to manage their basic financial problems and especially deal with those states that are in considerable difficulty and what that might mean for the entire community -- look back at some of the things she said and the views she expressed at the time, it strikes me that she was right more often than she was wrong.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you think she'd want to be remembered?

CHENEY: Well, I'm sure as a patriot, as somebody who gave her all, if you will, for her nation, and that she was a consequential prime minister by anybody's standards. I mean, if I think back over the years here in terms of the United States, you've to go back to somebody like Winston Churchill to somebody where there was that degree of affection and I think relationship that the American people had for her, and especially President Reagan.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the Brits are going to honor her with the same level of funeral as they did for Winston Churchill...

CHENEY: I think that's entirely appropriate.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... Princess Diana and queen mother.

CHENEY: Yes. I think that's appropriate. I think she'd love that.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think she probably would love it. Anyway, Mr. Vice President, nice to see you, sir.

CHENEY: Good to see you, Greta.