Jeane Kirkpatrick

Reagan's UN ambassador


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.

Rupert Cornwell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager - Events, Digital, Offline

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager (Events, Digit...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable