Jeane Kirkpatrick, RIP

For many of us, December 7 has another reason to live in infamy. Last Thursday, Ronald Reagan’s first ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, passed away at the age of 80. A tireless exponent of the truth, even when in environs as hostile as international diplomacy, she perfectly reflected her president’s wishes and her nation’s consensus.

Her rhetoric “took everyone by surprise. Even diplomats from friendly countries told me to be careful how I spoke – no one at the UN talked like that. The prevailing dogmas were socialism and anti-Americanism.” [1] Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Born Jeane Duane Jordan in Duncan, Oklahoma, on November 19, 1926, she was the first female UN Ambassador and, during her tenure, a registered Democrat.

However, she began political life as an enthusiastic socialist. Her grandfather, a founder of both Populist and Socialist parties (and an example of how closely aligned the two ideologies often were), enticed her to study socialism at an early age. She joined the Young People’s Socialist League during her freshman year at Columbia University, but the more she learned, the less enamored she grew of collectivism:

As I read the utopian socialists, the scientific socialists, the German Social Democrats and revolutionary socialists – whatever I could in either English or French – I came to the conclusion that almost all of them, including my grandfather, were engaged in an effort to change human nature. The more I thought about it, the more I thought this was not likely to be a successful effort.

She quickly turned her attention to the mainstream of the Democratic Party, earning a Ph.D. and becoming a Georgetown professor of political science along the way. Her husband, Evron “Kirk” Kirkpatrick, would work as an adviser to former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, D-MN.

In 1972, she became one of the original signatories for the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM), founded to oppose the McGovernite drift of the Democratic Party, a reversal from which it has yet to recover. Signing with her were such liberal hawks as Humphrey, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Daniel “Pat” Moynihan, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Bayard Rustin, and Ben Wattenberg. [2]

She would work on Jackson’s presidential campaigns. Ironically, in the latter campaign, she would help draft the talking points that later became Jimmy Carter’s trademark: human rights. Kirkpatrick recalled at the 1976 Democratic platform hearings:

[T]he Carter forces were not committed to a human rights plank. This is what’s not generally understood. I mean, people have a sort of simplistic notion that President Carter brought human rights to the Democratic Party. It isn’t so.

She would later describe Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy outlook: “weaker is stronger.” [3] This had consequences for the world. “[B]etween the fall of Saigon and…the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, a dozen countries slid over, pushed and pulled, into the Soviet bloc, and American and Western military power declined.” At least one of these, the Daniel Ortega’s Sandinistas, received the benefits of Carter’s taxpayer-funded noblesse oblige. “I think they thought that the Sandinistas were agrarian reformers and they weren’t,” she said. “They were Marxist-Leninists engaged in the spread of Soviet power.” It served no American interest to replace friendly dictatorships with Soviet-aligned totalitarians. Instead, “policies to advance human rights had to be very carefully considered in their context and in relationship to alternatives in every case, including in places like Iran and Nicaragua.”

In reaction to expanding Soviet imperialism, many of the CDM members would form the core of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD). “We were concerned about the weakening of Western will,” Kirkpatrick remembered. “We advocated rebuilding Western strength.”

During this time, she formulated a distinction so self-evident it has since passed into academia: that “traditional authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary autocracies [totalitarian states], that they are more susceptible of liberalization, and that they are more compatible with U.S. interests.”

When she published her groundbreaking essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards” in the November 1979 issue of Commentary, it caught the eye of fellow CPD member Richard V. Allen, an adviser to yet another member: Ronald Reagan. Reagan solicited her services as his foreign policy adviser in the 1980 presidential campaign, overcoming her party-line objections by noting, “I was a Democrat once, too.” Following his landslide victory, Reagan appointed her the first female UN Ambassador in 1981, a post she endured until April 1985.

In many ways, she was well-suited to be Ronald Reagan’s voice to the world body. The intellectual elite snickered when he dubbed the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and shook their heads when he said communism carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Kirkpatrick’s words must have been equally jarring in 1981: “the Soviet empire is decaying at its center.” [4]

America’s “Iron Lady” showed no more patience for unfocused criticism of American allies from the world body than she did from Jimmy Carter. She had no problem condemning apartheid, she stated, if the standards universally applied. However, she proclaimed boldly from the floor of the UN on November 24, 1981:

The human rights agencies of the United Nations were silent while 3 million Cambodians died in Pol Pot’s murderous Utopia. The human rights agencies of the United Nations were silent while a quarter of a million Ugandans died at the hands of Idi Amin. The human rights agencies of the United Nations have been silent about the thousands of Soviet citizens denied equal rights, equal protection of the law, denied the right to think, write, publish, work freely, or to emigrate to some place of their own choosing.

She later called the UN’s policy in Latin America “a particularly egregious example of moral hypocrisy.” Condemning El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala, and Bolivia while saying nothing about Cuba. [5] She denounced resolutions condemning El Salvadoran president Jose Napoleon Duarte while urging him to forge a “negotiated political solution” with the Marxist front FMLN/FDR, which, she related, had killed 6,000 El Salvadorans the previous year. [6] She detailed the Sandinista’s forced march persecution of the Miskito Indians and harassment of La Prensa. [7] (Later, she would help advocate funds for the beleaguered Contras.) She stood up for American Cold War allies such as Israel, Namibia, and South Africa – often outvoted 30-, 80-, or more than 100-to-1. (She once joked that in the 1970s the American caucus contained only Chile and the Dominican Republic. “Since then, we have lost Chile and the Dominican Republic.”) [8]

Not all assignments reflected her own policy. She personally supported the Argentine government during the Falkland Islands conflict, but at Reagan’s insistence, she publicly (and heatedly) supported Margaret Thatcher. She willingly subordinated her own foreign policy analysis, because she had been hired to advance her boss’s view – a lesson Colin Powell, et. al., would have done well to learn.

Perhaps her most memorable service came in 1983, when she presented video of the Soviets shooting down civilian flight KAL 007 (which carried, among others, U.S. Congressman Lawrence McDonald of Georgia). Taking to the floor, she declared, “We are reminded once again that the Soviet Union is a state based on the twin principles of callousness and mendacity, dedicated to the role of force, and governed by the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Her powerful testimony coerced the UN – which, then as now, smeared America’s allies with the worst pejoratives – to “deplore” the mass murder of innocent civilians. [9]

Following the incident, certain localities refused to authorize the flights of the Soviets’ UN delegation. When the Communists wondered if they should leave the UN altogether, Kirkpatrick’s deputy and fellow political scientist, Charles Lichenstein replied, “We will put no impediment in your way. The members of the U.S. mission to the United Nations will be down at the dockside waving you a fond farewell.”

The Soviets tried mightily to discredit her, forging (badly) an overly cordial letter between her and the South African government. The ploy failed to impress either Turtle Bay or Kirkpatrick. “I felt there was as much disinformation aimed at me from inside our own government, frankly, as from the Soviet Union. That’s a shocking thing to say, but it is no exaggeration.” (From Kirkpatrick’s enemies, Colin Powell learned much.)

Her exemplary service earned her enemies at home, as well. Twenty years before David Horowitz or Ann Coulter, Jeane Kirkpatrick was driven offstage at Berkeley by leftist students, and later that year (1983) Jill Conway, the president of Smith College, said she could not guarantee Kirkpatrick’s safety should she decide to give the commencement address. [10]

These enemies would never forgive her, still a registered Democrat, for addressing the August 1984 Republican National Convention, in which she denounced the “San Francisco Democrats” [11] with the refrain, “They Always Blame America First”:

They said that saving Grenada from terror and totalitarianism was the wrong thing to do – they didn’t blame Cuba or the Communists for threatening American students and murdering Grenadians – they blamed the United States instead.

But then, somehow, they always blame America first.

She let Congress know when foreign nations blamed America first – forwarding their voting records to the House when foreign aid appropriations took place.

For four years, she stood athwart the UN, yelling, “Stop!” Thus, she was understandably grateful to leave the UN April 1985, whereupon she changed her party registration to Republican. Reagan insiders hoped the Gipper would replace George Schulz with Kirkpatrick as Secretary of State, but it did not come to fruition. She instead wrote an influential nationally syndicated column from 1986-1997 and became a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She considered running for president in 1988, because she considered George H.W. Bush an unworthy inheritor of the Reagan Legacy (another sign of prescience).

With the close of the Cold War, she hoped America might “again become a normal nation.” The incompetence of the Clinton administration destined this to be a short-lived expectation. With Jack Kemp, William Bennett, and Vin Weber, she co-founded Empower America in 1993. (She also played a role in founding the Center for a Free Cuba in 1997.)

She issued a forthright condemnation of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy, social experimentation with the military, rootless multilateralism, and “preemptive capitulation” with rogue nations in 1994. Although she supported the war in Bosnia, she opposed his committing ground troops without Congressional authorization.

And she again proved her foreign policy insights, her preternatural ability to sense and oppose evil, by standing against terrorism during this era of alleged “post-Cold War bliss.” As early as 1981, she warned Arab nations against aiding “carriers of radical politics hostile to their own survival.” At the 1996 Republican National Convention, she warned of “spreading attacks against Americans in the World Trade Center, in Saudi Arabia.”

Three years before 9/11, she exposed the threat of Osama bin Laden by name:

The Clinton administration’s refusal to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system has compromised our defenses in precisely the way that Reagan would not allow Gorbachev to do. Is this acceptable in an era when terrorists such as Osama bin Laden organize against our nation and our citizens?

She also tried to alert the public to the free hand Clinton gave state sponsors of terrorism during the late ’90s. Iran and Iraq, she wrote, were abusing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to gain “peaceful” nuclear technology. “We and other signatories are helping finance their development of a nuclear capacity.” A stalwart advocate of Israel, in 1989 she wrote with alarm that the PLO was becoming “legitimized.” In 2002, she told the Zionist Organization of America the creation of a Palestinian state would be “a catastrophic mistake” and a setback in the War on Terror.

Before 9/11, she counseled Bush to dump the ABM Treaty and develop SDI, in order “to protect our most vital interest: our national survival.”

The day after 9/11, she called upon “the Congress to issue a formal declaration of war against the entire fundamentalist Islamic terrorist network.” She, Kemp, and Bennett stated, in a press release:

We are at war with all fundamentalist Islamic entities waging war against the United States and our civilization, whether they assume the identities of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, the Islamic Jihad, or any other amorphous grouping or non governmental organization that is credibly known to be part of this abominable network of terror. The declaration of war should also apply to foreign nations that sponsor, harbor or support individuals and entities at war with the United States…We are at war, and Congress has the responsibility to declare war against those people and organizations waging war on us and against any nation known to be sponsoring, supporting or harboring those people waging war on us. Once having declared war, we must wage it, and remove this terrorism and these terrorists from the face of the earth.”

Sought out by – of all people – foreign policy guru Oprah Winfrey, she told the talk show maven she was “struck” by the level of hatred in Osama bin Laden’s speeches, and while it was fine to pray for our enemies, we must retaliate forcefully:

It is the most serious challenge to our country that there has ever been, I think, certainly the most serious challenge since the Civil War. Our society, our survival, our way of life – that’s what is at stake.

So convinced was she of this imperative that a year later she said it would be worth going into Iraq, even if America and Great Britain had to go it alone.

Recognizing the sagacity of this Medal of Freedom award winner, in March 2003 President George W. Bush sent her on a previously undisclosed assignment to head-off an Arab condemnation of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She persuasively argued that Saddam’s violations of the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire legitimized a resumption of hostilities. And the move worked.

As her health deteriorated, she remained a dedicated spokeswoman for the policies she held dear all her life. She proved a regular and indefatigable critic of the Human Rights Commission, whose members “are not themselves serious practitioners of respect for human rights in their own countries.” And she continued to defend America’s human rights record. When asked if America is “eroding” human rights in Guantanamo Bay, she responded this was “a feeling and not an informed opinion…There is only one part of Cuba that there is any access for an international humanitarian agency, and that is Guantanamo Bay and the prisoners held there.”

While others promoted a “global test” for American intervention, Kirkpatrick affirmed, “We must never agree that the U.S. needs permission of the Security Council or any non-American entity to take action to protect our security. That is an irreducible responsibility of our government, which of course is responsible to the Congress and the American people as specified in our Constitution.”

At no time, however, did her endorsement of unilateral action, her rejection of the World Court, or her seeming willingness to work with authoritarians stem from an amoral outlook. She recognized the fine distinctions between advancing liberty via unsavory alliances and retarding freedom through self-righteously castigating those allies.

She was, in her own words, “a serious Christian.” She understood well the injunction, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to tell the difference.” She changed the world by telling the truth, and we are better for it.

Requiescat in pace.


1. D’Souza, Dinesh. Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. (NY: The Free Press, 1997), p. 167.

2. Wattenberg, Benjamin. Values Matter Most. (NY: The Free Press, 1995), p. 236.

3. Kirkpatrick, Jeane. The Reagan Phenomenon and Other Speeches on Foreign Policy. (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute), p. 33.

4. Kirkpatrick, p. 35.

5. Kirkpatrick, pp. 49-50.

6. Kirkpatrick, pp. 54-61.

7. Kirkpatrick, pp. 62-70.

8. Kirkpatrick, p. 80.

9. Will, George. The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses 1981-1986. (NY: The Free Press, 1986), p. 287.

10. Will, p. 14.

11. The 1984 Democratic National Convention had been held in San Francisco.

This article originally ran as the lead story on Monday, December 11, 2006, on FrontPage Magazine.