The people of Great Britain and the world at large lost one of history's most inspirational leaders Monday with the passing of Margaret Thatcher, a person respected by British allies and adversaries alike.

In fact, it was the Soviet Union which dubbed her "The Iron Lady" out of respect for the world leader. Soviet leadership recognized her as a person with steely resolve and strength of character, qualities we would all welcome in our leaders today.

It was 21 years ago when I heard Britain's first woman prime minister speak at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. What's amazing about the speech is that many of her major points still apply in today's global arena. From developing a strong military to rescuing Great Britain from a disastrous economy, Thatcher had her finger on the pulse of the nation, keeping the interests of the British citizens first.

Because their leadership philosophies were so aligned, it was no surprise that Thatcher and Ronald Reagan became great friends, as did Thatcher and George H. W. Bush.

A big part of Reagan's legacy of building a strong defense was the The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which involved the use ground-based and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. Recent threats by North Korea to strike the U.S. with nuclear weapons make Reagan's SDI relevant today. During Thatcher's VMI speech, she strongly supported the Reagan-Bush SDI strategy, calling it "a marvelous decision."

It was Thatcher who gave President G. W. Bush his strongest ally in stopping Iraq in its tracks after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1980. Had the Iraqis continued south, they could have controlled 60 percent of the world's oil reserves.

Five years later, the British granted the U.S. use of its bases for an air strike against Libya, which Thatcher saw as a legitimate act of self defense in order to uphold international law against terrorism. Thatcher considered Great Britain and the U.S. "partners in defending liberty."

When Thatcher took office, she found a government plagued by union controls and a people who had accepted decline after the eroding of their spirit and confidence. She ushered in a new era of economic strength, setting off a British revival of spirit in the 1980s.

"We defeated defeatism," she told the VMI audience during her address.

Her embrace of a free-market system, private rights and limited government should be studied as a map to success by today's leaders, Washington included. The Iron Lady knew how to lead and inspire a nation, not only with words but with action.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com