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Britain Holds Tribute to President Ronald Reagan

As Fourth of July celebrations get under way across the United States, London will hold its own tribute to America's 40th President, Ronald Reagan, with the unveiling of a bronze statue outside the American embassy in Grosvenor Square.

President Ronald Reagan watches as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher speaks November 16, 1988 in Washington, DC.
Brad Markel | Liaison | Getty Images
President Ronald Reagan watches as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher speaks November 16, 1988 in Washington, DC.

Former president Reagan will stand alongside other celebrated US heads of state such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower and was considered important enough for Westminster City Council to break its rule specifying that ten years must pass after a subject's death before they can be immortalized in statue form.

Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be in London for the unveiling of the memorial, along with British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Baroness Thatcher, Reagan's closest foreign ally and one half of the 'Special Relationship' which came to epitomize the 1980s and contribute to the demise of the Cold War will probably be too frail to attend the ceremony celebrating the man she referred to as "the second most important man in my life."

The $1 million statue is the latest in a number that have been unveiled across the world, celebrating 100 years since Reagan's birth and in recognition of his contribution to the fall of Communism in Europe. Indeed a quote attributed to Lady Thatcher that "Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot" will be etched on the statue's plinth which will be displayed with a portion of the Berlin Wall.

Former special assistant to Ronald Reagan Mary Jo Jacobi told CNBC.com ahead of attending that ceremony that Reagan would have reacted to the tribute with humility.

"I think he would be moved and a bit perhaps surprised by it all because he was a very humble man. I do think that there was a very special place in his heart for Margaret Thatcher and for the United Kingdom, our closest ally in his view, so I think he would be particularly thrilled to have this statue here in London," she told CNBC.com

Jacobi, who has met every US president since Lyndon Johnson, said Reagan stands apart from subsequent presidents as he was able to articulate and execute a clear vision for the United States.

"He connected with the common person in the United States and in many parts of the world, and I think that that's a rare gift, we haven't seen it since. Bill Clinton was very good at empathy, President Obama was very good at articulating a vague notion of hope and change, but not a clear vision of what that hope and change would look like or feel like and that was the difference with Ronald Reagan," she explained.

A More Secure Era

American historian, writer and research fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London Dr Tim Stanley echoed Jacobi's comments, telling CNBC.com that "it is unlikely for a while that any other (recent) president will be honored this way."

"The jury is still out on Barack Obama's record and any statue of George W. Bush is likely to attract unflattering graffiti. Reagan's memorial is a reminder of the last period of history when Britain and America acted in concert, doing what was unquestionably morally right," he added.

Tim Stanley said it would have been "unthinkable" to have such a memorial to Reagan a quarter of a century ago, but he has come to represent a more secure epoch, when Britain and the United States held the moral high ground in foreign affairs.

"The unveiling reflects broad acceptance among historians and the public that President Reagan's bold, aggressive strategy exhausted the Soviet Union and defeated Communism," he explained.

"Just as Americans hanker for the 1980s as a period of low unemployment and 'Morning in America,' so the Brits can feel some nostalgia for a decade in which we helped the US to win the Cold War. Unlike the War on Terror, which is complex and controversial, the Cold War was a straight fight between good and evil. We were with Ronald Reagan on the right side of history and so his statue feels right at home here in London," he added.

But how would the former President feel about the current uncertainty gripping the United States as Democrats and Republicans race to reach a deal on the budget before the August deadline?

Jacobi told CNBC.com he would be "appalled" with the current stalemate on Capitol Hill and "the fact that America hasn't had an approved budget in two years, the fact that the leaders have largely been absent from the debate and have not really gotten in and gotten their hands dirty… I think he'd be shocked," she said.

"You would have seen a great deal more engagement, yes by the President himself, but most importantly by the President's people in working with the Congress regardless of party, to craft something that would work for America, a budget that would work for America," she added.

Ronald Reagan was also unlikely to have presided over such bad relations between the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, Jacobi said, preferring to see disagreements as "challenges", rather than brand political opponents as "enemies".

"He understood the difference between being disagreed with and being disliked. And so many times, not just in public life, in life, someone disagrees with you, you think they're not your friend, you think they don't like you and it's just a matter of a disagreement and he used to say: 'We have no enemies, we just have challenges'."

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