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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Supervisor & Advisor - Automotive

£16500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Housing Assistant

£16819 - £21063 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager - OTE £60,000

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In 2014, they launched the worl...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones