Jeane J. Kirkpatrick

December 8, 2006

If Iraq is a train wreck, then Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, who died yesterday at the age of 80, may rightly be called one of the engineers that put America on the track.

Not that she was involved directly in the planning or the execution — of course not. But as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1981 to 1985, Kirkpatrick was one of the earliest and most forceful proponents of the cowboy foreign policy thinking that has America mired in bloody quicksand in the Middle East. Kirkpatrick was in many ways the classic neoconservative: intelligent, articulate, bluntly outspoken, and deeply, almost comically wrong about the world.

The cornerstone of her public career was “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” a November 1979 essay for Commentary magazine that was her entree to the Reagan administration. In it, Kirkpatrick drew a distinction between totalitarian regimes, such as the Soviet Union, and authoritarian ones such as the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua (which had recently been overthrown by the Sandinistas) and the Shah of Iran, who had just been chased out of Tehran by Islamic revolutionaries. Totalitarian regimes exert top-to-bottom control of their societies and are difficult if not impossible to change;  authoritarian governments, while often sleazy and corrupt, exercise less control and are amenable to gradual reform and moral suasion. Therefore, she argued, tolerating the butcheries practiced by Latin American dictatorships in El Salvador and Guatemala, instead of withholding aid from them on moral grounds, was the realistic course of action, especially as part of the greater goal of defeating the Soviet Union. 

There was much fretting at the time about the perceived decline of american power and, more importantly, America’s loss of “will” to oppose Soviet expansionism. Norman Podhoretz published The Present Danger, which asked “Do we have the will to reverse the decline of American power?” This was the time of books like How Democracies Perish and The Committee on the Present Danger, an outgrowth of Podhoretz’s book (which has since shifted its focus from communism to terrorism). Kirkpatrick was right in line with that thinking:      

Power, Ms. Kirkpatrick said in a 1996 interview, is not merely based on guns or money, but on the strength of personal conviction – on will. American power was slipping in the late 1970’s and she saw it as her duty to reverse that course.

“We were concerned about the weakening of Western will,” she said. “We advocated rebuilding Western strength, and we did that with Ronald Reagan, if I may say so.”

And yet it would take less than a decade for the Soviet Union, the archetypal totalitarian society that supposedly would resist all attempts at reform, to vote itself out of existence. Meanwhile, the drive to roll back communism in Latin America had veered into open criminality, first with the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (who carried on the old Somoza-era tradition of attacking civilians instead of their military foes) and then, when Congress shut off the funding spigot, resorting to weapons-trafficking with the Iranian regime. All of this was done with Kirkpatrick’s enthusiastic support.

And for all the strutting and touch talk, whenever American power was used directly, it was always against pipsqueak targets like Grenada, where the opera buffa Marxist dictatorship was invaded by U.S. forces on the heels of the humiliating withdrawal from Beirut. The collapse of the Soviet Union is often cited by conservatives as the crowning achievement of the Reagan administration, ignoring the decades of containment and diplomacy that has paved the way for the victory. It was once said of George W. Bush that he was a guy who’d been born on third base and grew up thinking he hit a triple. Reagan was a guy who walked into a bar at the end of a long brawl, when the combatants were ready to keel over, and walked out bragging that he’d licked every man in the joint.

Some bloggers have taken to describing the neocon approach to the world as “Green Lantern foreign policy,” in which the exercise of “will” is the key determinant of victory. That and all the other facets of neocon thinking — swaggering indifference to world opinion, adolescent belief in the use of military force as the trump card in any situation — are embodied in the career of Jeane Kirkpatrick.   

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10 Responses to “Jeane J. Kirkpatrick”

  1. christopher vandijk Says:

    Green Lantern foreign policy? That’s an insult… to the Green Lantern.


  2. I recall Kirkpatrick’s remark that we should support the Argentinian dictators, since they were on our side against the Russians. The dictators who were “disappearing” their enemies. Assuming this meant the US was on their side, the Argentines went to war with England by invading the Malvinas. As it happened, this led to the downfall of the Argentine dictatorship, but this was not what Kirkpatrick intended.

  3. Stan Kreis Says:

    Let’s see: Western civilization vs Communism; Western Civilization vs Fascism; Western Civilization vs Islamic Totalitarianism. Didn’t cowboy mentalities payoff somewhere in there?

  4. Steven Hart Says:

    You want this to be World War II so badly, don’t you? Let’s summarize:

    Western Civilization
    vs. Fascism:

    United States drawn into World War II in response to direct attack by Japanese, defeats Japan, then enters combined worldwide effort in which the Red Army breaks the back of the Wermacht, making it possible for the Allies to defeat the Nazis in Western Europe after sustaining heavy losses. Threat of Nazis and militaristic Japanese empire eliminated.

    (By the way, “Western Civilization vs. Fascism” is a ridiculous label. Germany, the land of Goethe and Beethoven, and Italy, wellspring of classical civilization and literature, were part of Western Civilization. Go look at a map of Europe if you don’t believe me. Even the term “fascism” derives from “fasces,” a Roman symbol of power.)

    Western Civilization
    vs. Communism:

    Continental alliance of nations holds line against Soviet expansionism, aided by intelligently conceived U.S. policy of containment sustained over multiple decades and presidencies. Containment policy staves off possibility of nuclear war, and, aided by harebrained invasion of Afghanistan, allows the Soviet Union’s political, military and economic structure to collapse of its own corruption and internal tensions.

    Western Civilization
    vs. Islamic Totalitarianism:

    U.S. successfully evicts Islamist Taliban and Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, then pisses away the victory by attacking a secular dictatorship that poses no threat to us, on the basis of lies and cooked “evidence” that crumbles even before invasion is launched. Smaller nations conned into contributing troops to the invasion of Iraq realize they’ve been had and gradually withdraw their forces as U.S. occupation, trapped by ill-conceived go-it-alone planning, incompetence and arrogance, turns Iraq into a cesspool of chaos and bloodshed. America’s military, political and economic structure strained by harebrained invasion of Iraq even as Taliban re-establish themselves in Afghanistan.

    Stan, I’ll leave you to consider the differences. Meanwhile, thanks for helping me make my point.

  5. FreeDem Says:

    The one speech that I remember By Ms Kirkpatrick while she was still a Democrat, was a spirited defense of why our thugs were better than their thugs (she used that term.)

    Her contention was that while thugs the world over murdered and tortured their people, all of America’s pet thugs (like Saddam) were basically simple kleptocrats, who just wanted to rape the financial well being of these countries, and as long as you didn’t get between them and power or money, you were pretty much ignored.

    She claimed that the only alternative was the “other guy’s” thugs who did the same thing but also insisted in controlling people’s social actions and opinions, thus imposing them selves on peoples daily lives, beyond keeping them in abject poverty. This was why Totalitarians were worse than Authoritarians.

    Now it is a standard thing to accuse your enemy of tactics you plan on using, but I wish I had a text of the speech because almost immediately she did just that, it was hypocrisy even then, but has only gotten worse.

    I have thanked her for pointing out the difference early, and I have used her talking points ever since. I only wish John Dean would read them.

    It is indeed bad enough that the Bush Clan have gone on a kleptomaniacal spree, it is worse that they have gutted the Constitution and the Magna Carta, but it is worse yet that they are going completely Totalitarian that opinions and thought crimes are threatened, and in some cases carried out.

    Ms Kirkpatrick did indeed call an early warning of what we should really fear, and the spent the rest of her life in support of that very evil.

  6. geoff Says:

    She and her good chum Pinochet are roasting in adjoining magma jacuzzi tubs at this moment.

  7. Jeff Says:

    You know, I can’t stand the likes of George W. Bush, but as I find myself drifting further and further left in my political leanings as I grow older and older, I am reminded by the “cult of do-nothings” like Steven Hart that make up the blind leftists in this nation. Steven I’m sure you’re a nice guy, and we’d get along in real life, but you are part of this group of people that are distorting reality. Sometimes reality is a decision that must be made NOW. You describe our involvement in WWII as something we’d never do if we hadn’t been attacked, and you’re right. However, you say it in a way that makes it sound like therefore our involvement doesn’t count.

  8. Steven Hart Says:

    No thread is complete without a concern troll. Come by anytime, Jeff, only try to increase the comprehensibility while diminishing the armchair psychology.


  9. […] certain amount of time scrubbing out comment spam from my older posts. But I have to wonder why my year-old post on Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick draws porno spam like flies.  Posted by stevenhart Filed in […]


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