Jeane J. Kirkpatrick ( November 19, 1926 – December 7, 2006) was an American ambassador and an ardent anti-communist. She was a long-time Democrat, who turned Republican in 1985. After serving as Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy adviser in his 1980 campaign, she became the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
She was known for the “Kirkpatrick Doctrine”, which advocated U.S. support of anticommunist governments around the world, including authoritarian dictatorships, if they went along with Washington’s aims—believing they could be led into democracy by example. She wrote, “Traditional authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary autocracies.”
Kirkpatrick served on Reagan’s Cabinet on the National Security Council, Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Defense Policy Review Board, and chaired the Secretary of Defense Commission on Fail Safe and Risk reduction of the Nuclear Command and Control System.
Jeane Duane Jordan was born in Duncan, Oklahoma, the daughter of an oilfield wildcatter, Welcher F. Jordan, and his wife, Leona (née Kile). She attended Emerson Elementary School there and was known to her classmates as “Duane Jordan”. She had a younger sibling, Jerry.
At age 12, her father moved the family to Mt. Vernon, Illinois, where she graduated from Mt. Vernon Township High School. In 1948, she graduated from Barnard College after receiving her associate degree from Stephens College (then only a two-year institution) in Columbia, Missouri.
In 1968, Kirkpatrick earned a PhD in political science from Columbia University.
She spent a year of post-graduate study at the Institut des Sciences Politiques at the University of Paris, which helped her learn the French language. She was fluent in Spanish.
Though she ultimately became a conservative, as a college freshman in 1945 she joined the Young People’s Socialist League, the youth wing of the Socialist Party of America, influenced by her grandfather who was a founder of the Populist and Socialist parties in Oklahoma. As Kirkpatrick recalled at a symposium in 2002:
It wasn’t easy to find the YPSL in Columbia, Missouri. But I had read about it and I wanted to be one. We had a very limited number of activities in Columbia, Missouri. We had an anti-Franco rally, which was a worthy cause. You could raise a question about how relevant it was likely to be in Columbia, Missouri, but it was in any case a worthy cause. We also planned a socialist picnic, which we spent quite a lot of time organizing.
Eventually, I regret to say, the YPSL chapter, after much discussion, many debates and some downright quarrels, broke up over the socialist picnic. I thought that was rather discouraging.
At Columbia University, her principal adviser was Franz Neumann, a revisionist Marxist. In 1967, she joined the faculty of Georgetown University and became a full professor of government in 1973. She became active in politics as a Democrat in the 1970s, and was involved in the later campaigns of former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey. Along with Humphrey, she was close to Henry M. Jackson, who ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972 and in 1976.
She was opposed to the candidacy of George McGovern. In 1976, she joined with Richard V. Allen and others to found the Committee on Present Danger for the purpose of warning Americans against the Soviet Union’s growing military power and the dangers of the SALT II treaty. She also served on the Platform Committee for the Democratic Party in 1976.
Kirkpatrick published a number of articles in political science journals reflecting her disillusionment with the Democratic Party with specific criticism of the foreign policy of Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Her most well known piece was “Dictatorships and Double Standards”, published in Commentary Magazine in November 1979.
In that piece, Kirkpatrick mentioned what she saw as a difference between authoritarian regimes and the totalitarian regimes such as the Soviet Union; sometimes it was necessary to work with authoritarian regimes if it suited American purposes.
She wrote: “No idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime and anywhere, under any circumstances. … Decades, if not centuries, are normally required for people to acquire the necessary disciplines and habits. In Britain, the road [to democratic government] took seven centuries to traverse. … The speed with which armies collapse, bureaucracies abdicate, and social structures dissolve once the autocrat is removed frequently surprises American policymakers.”
This piece came to the attention of Ronald Reagan through his National Security Adviser Richard V. Allen. Kirkpatrick then became a foreign policy adviser throughout Reagan’s 1980 campaign and presidency and, after his election to the presidency, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, a position she held for four years. The Economist writes that, prior to this point, “she had never spent time with a Republican before.”
On the way to her first meeting with him, she told Allen, “Listen, Dick, I am an AFL-CIO Democrat and I am quite concerned that my meeting Ronald Reagan on any basis will be misunderstood.” She asked Reagan if he minded having a lifelong Democrat on his team; he replied that he himself had been a Democrat until the age of 51, and in any event he liked her way of thinking about American foreign policy.
She was one of the strongest supporters of Argentina’s military dictatorship following the March 1982 Argentine invasion of the United Kingdom’s Falkland Islands, which triggered the Falklands War. Kirkpatrick had a “soft spot” for Argentina’s President Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, and favored neutrality rather than the pro-British policy favored by the Secretary of State Alexander Haig.
The British ambassador Sir Nicholas Henderson described her as “more fool than fascist … she appears to be one of America’s own-goal scorers, tactless, wrong-headed, ineffective, and a dubious tribute to the academic profession to which she [expresses] her allegiance”. The administration ultimately decided to declare support for the British, forcing her to vote yes to United Nations Security Council Resolution 502.
At the 1984 Republican National Convention, she delivered the “Blame America First” keynote speech, which re-nominated Reagan by praising his administration’s foreign policy while excoriating the leadership of what she called the “San Francisco Democrats”—the Democrats had just held their convention in San Francisco—for the party’s shift away from the policies of Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy to a more strident anti-war position that the left-wing of the Democratic Party had pushed since Vietnam.
It was the first time since the 1952 speech from Douglas MacArthur that a non-party member had delivered the Republican Convention’s keynote address.
Kirkpatrick, a member of the National Security Council, did not get along with either Secretary of State Haig or his successor, George Shultz.
She disagreed with Shultz most notably on the Iran-Contra affair, in which she supported skimming money off arms sales to fund the Nicaraguan Contras while Shultz told Kirkpatrick that it would be an “impeachable offense” to do so due to the massacres perpetrated by that group. Shultz threatened to resign if Kirkpatrick was appointed National Security Adviser.
Kirkpatrick was more closely allied with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and head of the CIA William J. Casey on the issue.
Kirkpatrick’s foreign policy, while applauded by conservatives, has been criticized by some historians and intellectuals, chiefly on the grounds that she worked solely for the interest of American corporations in Central America, and for this reason actually worked to undermine democratic government in Nicaragua and to suppress democratic movements in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Noam Chomsky, for example, referred to her as the “Chief sadist-in-residence of the Reagan Administration” and went on to criticize what he called the hypocrisy of supporting brutal military regimes that showed no respect for human rights or democracy, while claiming to be protecting the region from communism.
Lars Schoultz has argued that her policy was based on her belief that “Latin Americans are pathologically violent”, and goes on to criticize this as a prejudice with no factual basis.
Kirkpatrick said that “[w]hat takes place in the Security Council more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving.”
Still, she finished her term with a certain respect for the normative power of the United Nations as the “institution whose majorities claim the right to decide—for the world—what is legitimate and what is illegitimate.”
She noted that the United States had increasingly ignored this significance and became increasingly isolated. This was problematic, because “relative isolation in a body like the United Nations is a sign of impotence,” especially given the ability of the United Nations to shape international attitudes.
She was ambassador to the U.N. during the September 1, 1983 Soviet shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 near Moneron Island. KAL 007 had carried 269 passengers and crew including a sitting congressman, Larry McDonald (D-GA).
She played before the Security Council the audio of the electronic intercept of the interceptor pilot during the attack, after which the Soviet Union could no longer deny its responsibility for the shootdown.
Kirkpatrick was a Board Member of the American Foundation for Resistance International and the National Council to Support the Democracy Movements, organizations intended to help bring down Soviet and East European Communism. Along with Vladimir Bukovsky, Martin Colman and Richard Perle, she worked to organize democratic revolutions against communism.
According to Jay Nordlinger, on a visit with American dignitaries, Soviet human rights activist Andrei Sakharov said, “Kirkpatski, Kirkpatski, which of you is Kirkpatski?” When others pointed to Kirkpatrick, he said, “Your name is known in every cell in the Gulag,” because she had named Soviet political prisoners on the floor of the UN. Kirkpatrick said she would only serve one term at the UN and stepped down in April 1985.
Kirkpatrick was a staunch supporter of Israel. During her ambassadorship at the United Nations, she considered its frequent criticism and condemnation of the Jewish state as holding Israel to a double standard, which she attributed to hostility and regarded as politically motivated.
In 1989, Mohammed Wahby, press director of Egypt’s Information Bureau, wrote to the Washington Post saying, “Jeane Kirkpatrick has, somehow, consistently opposed any attempt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict”. However, in a 1989 op-ed, Kirkpatrick warned Secretary of State James Baker and President Bush not to get involved in the conflict because any intervention would fail.
Kirkpatrick frequently expressed disdain for what she perceived to be disproportionate attention towards Israel’s at the expense of others’ conflicts.
Anti-Defamation League President Abraham Foxman issued a press release upon her death saying that “She will be fondly remembered for her unwavering and valiant support of the State of Israel and her unequivocal opposition to anti-Semitism, especially during her tenure at the United Nations. She was always a true friend of the Jewish people.”
In April 1985, Kirkpatrick became a Republican, a move which The Economist called her “only recourse” after her speech at the 1984 Republican convention. S
he returned to teaching at Georgetown University and became a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank, and a contributor to the American Freedom Journal. In 1993, she co-founded Empower America, a public-policy organization. She was also on the advisory board of the National Association of Scholars, a group that works against what it regards as a liberal bias in academia, with its emphasis on multicultural education, and affirmative action.
Kirkpatrick briefly considered running for President in 1988 against George H.W. Bush, because she believed he was not tough enough on Communism.
Kirkpatrick endorsed Senator Robert J. Dole of Kansas, who was the runner up to Bush. Despite a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, Dole’s campaign quickly faded after he lost the New Hampshire primary in February 1988. Kirkpatrick was an active surrogate campaigner for Dole even as he was losing, as was her old foe, Alexander Haig, who endorsed Dole after ending his own 1988 campaign several days before the New Hampshire primary.
Along with Empower America co-directors William Bennett and Jack Kemp, she called on the Congress to issue a formal declaration of war against the “entire fundamentalist Islamist terrorist network” the day after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In 2003, she headed the US delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Kirkpatrick was appointed to the Board of Directors of IDT in 2004.
It was revealed after her death that in 2003, she was sent as a US envoy, to meet an Arab delegation and attempt to convince them to support the Iraq War; she was supposed to argue that pre-emptive war was justifiable, but she knew this would not work and instead argued that Saddam Hussein had consistently gone against the UN.
However she described George W. Bush as “a bit too interventionist for my taste”, and felt that what she described as “moral imperialism” was not “taken seriously anywhere outside a few places in Washington, DC.”
On February 20, 1955, she married Evron Maurice Kirkpatrick, who was a scholar and a former member of the O.S.S. (the World War II-era predecessor of the CIA). Her husband died in 1995. They had three sons: Douglas Jordan (1956–2006), John Evron, and Stuart Alan.
She had been diagnosed with heart disease and had been in failing health for several years. Kirkpatrick died at her home in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 7, 2006 from congestive heart failure. She was interred at Parklawn Memorial Park in Rockville, Maryland.