The world will pay tribute to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tomorrow as funeral services unfold at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. President Obama, however, will be sitting this one out:
The US is to send distinctly low-key official representation to Lady Thatcher's funeral on Wednesday, with a delegation led by George Shultz and James Baker, who both served as US secretary of state while Thatcher was in power.
While Barack Obama was invited, he has opted to send a presidential delegation comprising no serving politicians. Shultz was secretary of state to Ronald Reagan while Baker served the elder George Bush. Also representing Obama will be Barbara Stephenson, chargé d'affaires at the US embassy in London, and Louis Susman, the recently departed ambassador to Britain.
NRO's Charles Cooke observes that the Obama administration is allocating "the same level of functionary that was sent to mourn Hugo Chavez."
This is peculiar in and of itself, but especially so when one considers that senior officals have been readily dispatched by the administration for funerals past. The prime minister of Ethiopia was judged sufficiently important to deserve Susan Rice's attendance, among others. The president sent Hillary to Vaclav Havel's farewell, and also to send off the president of Ghana. Joe Biden led the delegation to a Saudi royal funeral. And Obama personally attended Polish president Lech Kaczynski's. While she was first lady, Hillary Clinton attended the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. What explains the decision to snub the Iron Lady, a call that was made before yesterday's attack in Boston? Even if diplomatic protocol could be used to explain the decision, it would serve only to give the administration an excuse for not attending and not as a prohibition on them doing so. Suffice it to say that the administration should not need an excuse to stay away. On the contrary, any American administration should be jumping all over itself to attend the funeral of such a woman. Mrs. Thatcher was a world-historical figure who not only led a country that has enjoyed a strong (special, you might say) relationship with the United States for at least century, but who had an especially strong relationship with the United States herself.
Thatcher not only saved Britain from itself but joined forces with the Reagan administration to liberate much of Europe from a monstrous tyranny. That was no small thing. Thatcher stood behind Reagan when he told Gorbachev to tear down the wall. She bucked the European trend and allowed the United States to use British airspace after Lockerbie. She allowed the United States to host its arsenal of cruise missiles in the U.K., over loud protests. If the incumbent president doesn't appreciate those things, then that is his preogative. But it certainly matters to those of us who do appreciate them. It matters to the British government, too. Former secretary of state for defense Liam Fox made no secret of his surprise, telling the Daily Mail, "I think it would be both surprising and disappointing if after President Obama's fulsome tribute to Lady Thatcher, the American administration did not send a senior serving member to represent them."