American Diplomacy
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December 2006

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In his praise of Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, the author highlights her contributions to U. S. national security during an earlier period in which the American spirit seemed to flag. Challenged anew, Americans might well draw inspiration from her courageous defense of liberty.— Contrib. Ed.

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, a brilliant scholar, forceful diplomat, and consequential policymaker, died on December 8, 2006, at the age of 80. Kirkpatrick was a lifelong Democrat who saw her Party in the 1970s move away from the hardheaded, realistic foreign policies pursued by postwar Democratic Presidents Truman, Kennedy and Johnson. The traumas of Vietnam and Watergate, which followed the rise of the New Left in the 1960s, left the national Democratic Party increasingly influenced and sometimes led by Cold War revisionists, appeasers, and proponents of a weak-willed version of detente with our Soviet adversaries.

When Jimmy Carter, a southern Democrat, won the presidency in 1976, Kirkpatrick and other Democratic cold warriors hoped that the Party might begin to reclaim its traditional Cold War internationalist approach to the world. Carter had campaigned as a conservative Democrat, and four years before he had spoken at the Democratic National Convention on behalf of Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, a hawkish, anti-communist Democrat (and friend of Kirkpatrick). Those hopes were soon dashed, however, when in his first major foreign policy address, Carter proclaimed that the United States was now free of its “inordinate fear of communism” that once led us to embrace any dictator who offered to help us contain communism. Carter publicly discussed removing U.S. forces from South Korea, resulting in the public protest by, and resignation of, a U.S. military commander. The long-planned deployment of new weapons systems, both conventional and nuclear, was delayed or eliminated during the early years of the administration. And in a devastating blow to the morale of our armed forces, Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft dodgers.

Carter launched a “human rights” campaign that publicly scolded our authoritarian allies, such as the Shah of Iran and Nicaragua’s Somoza regime, but treaded more lightly when dealing with communist China and the Soviet Union. When both the Shah and Somoza came under increasing attack by internal opposition forces, Carter did nothing to support those longtime allies, and both fell from power with no effective U.S. response.

In Nicaragua, the Sandinista communist movement, aided by Cuba and the Soviet Union, soon took power and established a new Soviet base in the Western Hemisphere, a direct challenge to the Monroe Doctrine.

In Iran, the Shah, who helped protect U.S. interests in the vitally important Persian Gulf region, was soon replaced by radical Islamic clerics led by Ayatollah Khomeini, who called the United States the “great Satan,” endorsed and aided the seizure and holding of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran for more than four-hundred days, and began to support and train Islamic terrorists throughout the region.

Carter’s pursuit of detente with the Soviet Union suffered a major setback in December 1979 (after Carter had signed the SALT II Treaty with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and warmly embraced and kissed the Soviet dictator at the signing ceremony), when Soviet troops brutally invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Carter expressed both surprise and disappointment over the Soviet invasion.

Jeane Kirkpatrick and other Democratic cold warriors, alarmed at Carter’s policies and frustrated by their inability to influence the administration, formed the Committee on the Present Danger to publicly warn the American people about the danger resulting from the decline of U.S. power and the virtually unopposed Soviet geopolitical offensive. To Kirkpatrick and others, the United States appeared to be losing the Cold War.

In November 1979, Commentary magazine published a lengthy article by Kirkpatrick entitled “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” a stinging critique of Carter’s foreign policy. “The failure of the Carter administration’s foreign policy,” she wrote in the article’s first sentence, “is now clear to everyone except its architects…” “While Carter was President,” she explained, “there occurred a dramatic Soviet military buildup, matched by the stagnation of American armed forces, and a dramatic extension of Soviet influence in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, southern Africa, and the Caribbean, matched by a declining American position in all these areas.” In Iran and Nicaragua, she continued, “the United States suffered two other major blows …of large and strategic significance.” Not only did the Carter administration fail to prevent the undesired outcome in each country, but also it “actively collaborated in the replacement of moderate autocrats friendly to American interests with less friendly autocrats of extremist persuasion.”1

Carter’s policies, Kirkpatrick contended, resulted from a fundamental misunderstanding of the important distinctions between traditional authoritarian regimes (dictatorships of the right) and revolutionary totalitarian regimes (dictatorships of the left). The key distinction, she explained, was systemic:

Traditional autocrats leave in place existing allocations of wealth, power, status, and other resources…But they worship traditional gods and observe traditional taboos. They do not disturb the habitual rhythms of work and leisure, habitual places of residence, habitual patterns of family and personal relations.

* * *

[R]evolutionary Communist regimes…claim jurisdiction over the whole life of the society and make demands for change that…violate internalized values and habits…2

Authoritarian regimes, therefore, were generally less repressive than totalitarian regimes, and “more susceptible of liberalization.” Even more important, Kirkpatrick opined, authoritarian regimes were generally “more compatible with U.S. interests.”3

In other words, Carter’s policy approach—to publicly condemn and withhold support from friendly authoritarian governments, while searching for areas of cooperation and mutual interest with less-friendly totalitarian governments—was precisely the opposite of what it should be, with negative consequences for U.S. interests.

Kirkpatrick’s article greatly impressed the Republican nominee for President in 1980, Ronald Reagan, when an aide brought it to his attention during the campaign. When Reagan defeated Carter in the election and assumed office as the 40th President of the United States, he appointed Democrat Jeane Kirkpatrick as our Ambassador to the United Nations (the first woman to hold that post), gave her Cabinet rank, and made her a member of the National Security Council.

During the next four years, Dr. Kirkpatrick unapologetically promoted U.S. interests, vigorously defended our country against unfair and often vitriolic verbal attacks from other UN members, and directly confronted UN members and officials about their moral hypocrisy. For example, in a statement to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on November 24, 1981, she denounced the UN’s human rights activities. “[T]he record of human rights in the United Nations,” she pointed out, “belies the claim to moral seriousness that would fully justify its judgments.” She continued,

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 dies at the hands of Idi Amin. The human rights organizations 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.4

Kirkpatrick also pointed out the unfairness of UN condemnation of human rights violations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Chile, while at the same time it deliberately and willfully ignored the much more pervasive and systemic human rights violations of communist Cuba. “What are we to think,” she asked rhetorically, “of defenders of human rights who ignore the victims of major tyrants and vent all their ferocity on the victims of minor tyrants?”5

Kirkpatrick perceived the United Nations, rightly, as a political institution where her job was to promote American ideals and interests. In a speech to the Heritage Foundation in 1982 on the topic of the U.S. role in the United Nations, she lamented the fact that “we have not been effective in defining or projecting in international arenas a conception of our national purpose.” “[W]e have not understood,” she explained, “that the same principles of politics that apply in our national life apply in multilateral institutions as well.”6 She explained further,

Unless or until we approach the United Nations as professionals— professionals at its politics—with a clear-cut conception of our purposes and of the political arena in which we operate, knowledgeof the colleagues with whom we are interacting, and of their goals and interests, then we won’t ever know whether the United Nationscould be made a hospitable place for the American national interest.7

Too often in the past, she noted, the United States passively accepted the popular notions among UN members that the U.S. and other wealthy industrialized nations (and, of course, Israel) were responsible for all the ills of the world. That would not happen on her watch.

Even those who disagreed with U.S. policies at the UN during her tenure as ambassador, respected her intellect, presentations, and skill at promoting Reagan’s UN agenda. Her statements at the UN, commented Seymour Maxwell Finger, “commanded full attention, not only as the representative of a superpower who was clearly supported by the president, but also as a person who crafts her statements with care. Delegates listened carefully, knowing that she meant what she said.” Jeane Kirkpatrick, Finger concluded, was a “loyal, eloquent advocate of Reagan’s policies, [who] showed that the United States could be tough and consistent…”8

Her role in the Reagan administration, however, extended beyond her duties at the UN. As the New York Times commented, President Reagan brought her into his innermost foreign policy circle, the National Security Planning Group. There she weighed the risks and rewards of clandestine warfare in Central America, covert operations against Libya, the deployment of American marines in Lebanon, the invasion of Grenada and support for rebel forces in Afghanistan.9

Reagan’s national security adviser and friend, William Clark, noted that when Kirkpatrick offered advice, Reagan usually listened to and agreed with her. She played a key role in formulating policy toward Central America, fully supported aid to anticommunist forces throughout the world (the Reagan Doctrine), and promoted within the inner circles of the administration the strategy to undermine the Soviet Empire and win the Cold War.

In 1985, Dr. Kirkpatrick left her UN post, became a registered Republican, and returned to the scholarly world of Georgetown University and the American Enterprise Institute where she continued to write, teach, and speak about world affairs. In 1990, many of her columns and speeches were collected in a book entitled, The Withering Away of the Totalitarian State. Transaction Publishers also brought out a two-volume collection of her public papers and speeches entitled, Legitimacy and Force.

President Reagan awarded her the Medal of Freedom. President George W. Bush, upon hearing of her death, praised her for “defend[ing] the cause of freedom at a pivotal time in world history.” “Jeane’s powerful intellect,” the President said, “helped America win the Cold War.”10

1. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Dictatorships and Double Standards: Rationalism and Reason in Politics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), p. 23.
2. Ibid. at pp. 49-50.
3. Ibid. at p. 49.
4. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, The Reagan Phenomenon (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1983), p. 49.
5. Ibid. at p. 52.
6. Ibid. at p. 104.
7. Ibid. at p. 105.
8. Seymour Maxwell Finger, “Ronald Reagan and the United Nations: His Policies and His Representatives,” in Eric J. Schmertz, Natalie Datlof, and Alexej Ugrinsky ed., President Reagan and the World (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press), pp. 11-12.
9. The New York Times, December 9, 2006.
10. The Washington Post, December 9, 2006.

An Assistant United States Attorney in Pennsylvania, he also is an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University.

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