Reagan's UN ambassador
Monday 11 December 2006
Jeane Duane Jordan, political scientist and diplomat: born Duncan, Oklahoma 19 November 1926; Assistant Professor of Political Science, Trinity College, Washington 1962-67; Associate Professor of Political Science, Georgetown University 1967-73, Professor 1973-2006, Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Professor 1978-80, 1986-2002; Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute 1978-2006; US Ambassador to UN 1981-85; married 1955 Evron Kirkpatrick (died 1995; two sons, and one son deceased); died Bethesda, Maryland 7 December 2006.
Jeane Kirkpatrick's life traced the arc of modern American neo-conservatism. A disillusioned Democrat who became a Republican, she served as Ronald Reagan's outspoken ambassador at the United Nations, castigating Communism and never putting America anywhere but first. Later, she returned to academia, where she watched as neo-conservatism under George W. Bush took charge of US foreign policy. She died as a blue-riband independent report studied the neo-cons' supreme project - the attempt to impose democracy in Iraq by military invasion - and judged it conclusively to have been a disaster.
Kirkpatrick served notice of her style almost from her first day at the UN, declaring bluntly that she would not be a "ventriloquist's dummy". Instead she set to work to rebuild American power and prestige, sapped by Vietnam, the fall of traditional US allies like the Shah of Iran, the advance of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan - and by what she saw as pious hand-wringing by the previous Carter administration that had only sapped that power further.
Thus she became perhaps the purest expression of Reaganism on the international stage - and arguably the most powerful woman ever in American government until that time. Kirkpatrick firmly believed that right-wing dictators were preferable to left-wing ones; if support of the former was necessary to advance American interests, then so be it. She had no patience for the non-aligned. Either they were for America, or against it.
The approach led to something close to paranoia about the advance of Communism in central and Latin America. It led her to oppose US support for Britain in the Falklands War, arguing that neutrality would not upset relations with General Leopoldo Galtieri's Argentina. It also led her to back the 1983 invasion of the miniscule Caribbean island, and former British colony, of Grenada, causing outrage in Margaret Thatcher's government. Later, however, Kirkpatrick expressed her admiration for the "Iron Lady" - unsurprising given that the two women were made from such similar metal.
The seeds of her political conversion were sown early. Born Jeane Duane Jordan, she was the daughter of an oil wildcatter in Oklahoma. Kirkpatrick was a brilliant student who took a master's degree at Columbia University before becoming an analyst at the State Department. The Cold War was growing icier, and details of Stalin's atrocities were slowly becoming known.
A postgraduate year at the Institut de Science Politique at the University of Paris honed her skills in international policy (as well of the French language which, with Spanish, she spoke fluently). As she advanced through academia, rising to become a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, her convictions only hardened that Communism had to be confronted head-on if America's strength was to be preserved. But she was still a Democrat.
The break began after the shambolic 1972 convention that nominated George McGovern, a bitter opponent of the Vietnam War. Kirkpatrick helped found the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDC), including the archetypal hawk Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson and the former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, as well as the neo-conservative theorist Norman Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter, later a biographer of Donald Rumsfeld. They concluded the party was feeble on foreign policy and had to be weaned from McGovernism.
By 1978 she had joined the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington think-tank that became prime incubator of the neo-conservatives, as they waited for their chance to exercise real power. The following year she came to Reagan's notice with a 10,000-word essay, "Dictatorships and Double Standards". Published by Podhoretz in his magazine Commentary, it argued that the US practised double standards by tolerating Communist totalitarianism while holding the authoritarian regimes of Latin America and elsewhere to higher standards - even though these latter, she claimed, were more likely to evolve into democracies.
Reagan the presidential candidate loved it, and arranged to meet Kirkpatrick at a Washington dinner party organised by the columnist George Will. "I'm a Democrat," Kirkpatrick warned at one point - to which a smiling Reagan replied, "So was I once." Having duly defeated Jimmy Carter, Reagan made her his envoy to the UN, with cabinet rank.
Alexander Haig, Reagan's first Secretary of State, couldn't abide this strong-willed woman who had Reagan's ear, so ready to ruffle feathers. His successor George Shultz was more understanding, but threatened to resign if - as at one point seemed likely - she was appointed to the post of National Security Adviser, with an office at the White House a few yard's from Reagan's own.
Ultimately, Reagan's (and Kirkpatrick's) robust approach helped pave the way for the Soviet Union's downfall. But she also shared in the disasters along the way. Anti-Communist paranoia, for instance, led to the Iran-Contra fiasco that came close to destroying Reagan's second term.
At the crucial meeting in June 1984, after Congress had cut off funding of the right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua, Kirkpatrick supported (and Shultz vigorously opposed) the scheme to fund the Contras by skimming the proceeds of secret arms sales - including to Iran, supposedly to help secure the release of American hostages in Beirut. As Shultz warned, the illicit practice leaked in 1986, provoking the gravest crisis of Reagan's presidency.
By then Kirkpatrick had left government. She had vowed to serve only a single term at the UN, and duly stepped down in April 1985. Only then did she change her formal party registration to Republican. She briefly flirted with the notion of a run for the 1988 Republican presidential candidacy - partly on the back of a rapturously received speech at the 1984 convention that renominated Reagan, and partly out of her belief that Vice-President George H.W. Bush, the clear front runner to succeed him, was too soft on Communism.
But the idea was quickly dropped. Instead, she returned to the AEI, and became a queen of a hardline Republican establishment that provided the intellectual muscle for US foreign policy under George W. Bush. Just once she was summoned back to active service - in a final mission, kept secret until her death, to meet Arab envoys in Geneva in 2003 to win them over to the impending invasion of Iraq. Her instructions were to argue that pre-emptive war was justified. But Kirkpatrick knew it wouldn't work. Instead she made the case that Saddam Hussein had flouted the UN too long and too often. Whether or not she succeeded, the initial Arab hostility to the invasion was comparatively muted.
Until the end, she was a cherished mentor to the neo-conservatives. John Bolton - Bush's outgoing ambassador to the UN and of all her successors there the one who most closely resembled her - publicly wept as he paid tribute to her last week. Perhaps the tears were at the rubble of his President's Iraq policy, but also for a remarkable woman.
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