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PolitiFact.com | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact: On Dick Cheney, Margaret Thatcher and 'wobbly' George H.W. Bush

The statement

Says it's "an old wives' story" that Margaret Thatcher told George H.W. Bush not to go wobbly.

Dick Cheney, in an interview on Fox News

The ruling

It's one of Margaret Thatcher's most memorable quotes, spoken to President George H.W. Bush after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait: "Remember, George, this is no time to go wobbly."

Dick Cheney, the defense secretary who would become vice president, recently called it "an old wives' story."

And we said: Really?

Cheney fondly recalled the former British prime minister, who died Monday, in a Fox interview with Greta Van Susteren.

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

Cheney: "That's 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 bucking up."

We've reviewed speeches, transcripts, books and more, and we can tell you: Bush and Thatcher agree that she said it.

Bush himself publicly told the story in a 1991 speech as he awarded Thatcher the Medal of Freedom. He mentioned it in a 1998 book. She mentioned it in her 1993 memoirs and in a Frontline interview.

But the popular account has taken on a life of its own — one doesn't match what Bush and Thatcher have said.

In their versions, it happened during a phone call three weeks after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

The leaders disagreed about how to respond to ships leaving Iraq in defiance of U.N. sanctions. The Bush administration wanted to delay action a few days to win support from the Soviet Union through the U.N. Security Council. Thatcher urged immediacy.

Bush says in his 1998 book she warned him "this is no time to go wobbly" around Aug. 22 as he explained why they would delay using force. Thatcher says in her 1993 memoir she warned "this was no time to go wobbly" as he explained on Aug. 26 why, even with new U.N. authorization to enforce sanctions, they would let a ship through.

But some accounts place the quote earlier — on Aug. 2, the same day that Iraq invaded.

Those accounts don't match that of Philip Zelikow, a National Security Council staffer under Bush, or of Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who spoke about it in 1996.

Zelikow, now a history professor and associate dean at the University of Virginia, said in 2000, "I remember her using that line later in the context of arguments over the rules of engagement in the embargo and so forth."

In any telling, Thatcher warned Bush against wobbliness in August or September 1990.

We rate Cheney's claim False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: On Dick Cheney, Margaret Thatcher and 'wobbly' George H.W. Bush 04/11/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 4:52pm]
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