Snubbing the Iron Lady
(Corrects spelling of George Shultz in fifth paragraph.)
The Obama administration's decision not to send any serving official to Margaret Thatcher's funeral today was a mistake.
In the scheme of things, in a week when Boston was the object of a terrorist attack, this isn't admittedly a huge deal. But many Brits, the ones who tend to be most pro-American, see it as a snub. And the issue here isn't what the White House intended, but how its decision is perceived.
Here's the problem: Some U.K. allies (Poland) sent their prime ministers, and others (Germany) sent their foreign ministers, both in recognition of the huge role Thatcher played on the world stage, at the twilight of the Cold War.
Then there was another group of countries that made themselves conspicuously absent. Argentina, understandably given that Thatcher fought a war against the country over the Falkland Islands, sent no one at all. France, run by French socialists for whom Thatcher was something like the anti-Christ, sent no serving ministers, only a former justice minister.
The White House, unwittingly or by design, joined this second group. Administration officials said no one was available because this is a busy week on Capitol Hill. Yes it is. The administration also points out that it sent an impressive delegation of retired secretaries of state who were Thatcher's contemporaries. Yes they are: George Shultz and James Baker are big beasts, as the Brits like to call their important political figures. But like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Vice President Dick Cheney and Tea Party Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who also made the flight, they're Republicans. This looks needlessly partisan.
Few Conservatives in the U.K. will believe the "too busy" excuse. Nobody expected President Barack Obama to make time, but Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama do have private planes available. The pond that separates the two countries is not that big. As a result, the Democrat administration looks a little too like the French, or worse, Thatcher's ideological foes in the U.K., who turned up at the funeral procession to turn their backs in disrespect.
Thatcher was an ideologue of the right. She was also one of the first women to lead a major developed economy, an important world stateswoman and a staunch friend of the U.S. She was the U.K.'s Ronald Reagan or Mikhail Gorbachev -- global figures hated by many, but of great significance. She was worth the trip.
(Marc Champion is a member of Bloomberg View's editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)