Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick - An Appreciation

I first started paying serious attention to politics at about the time Jimmy Carter became president. Our country seemed to drift from one crisis to another, and we suffered numerous humiliations and setbacks abroad. In the wake of Vietnam the Soviet Union seemed on a roll, with many nations falling to the communists during the 1970s. Demagogues across the globe realized that it was safe to insult the United States, and many lept at the chance.

Symptomatic of Carter's term was his ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young. For example, during the trail of Soviet dissident Anatoly (now Natan) Shcharansky, Young claimed that there were "hundreds, maybe thousands, of people I would categorize as political prisoners" in the United States. While he later said that he was not equating the Soviet Union with the United States, he never explained what he meant either. Carter stuck by him, but Young was finally forced to resign after he met with a representative of the PLO, which was contrary to administration policy.

Then came the election of Ronald Reagan and everything changed. No longer would we apologize for our role in the world. Integral to his view of the world was his appointment of Jeane Kirkpatrick as ambassador to the UN.

She quickly put other nations on notice that insults to the US, to which they had gotten used to making, would no longer be tolerated. Far from apologizing for the United States, she demanded that other nations, in particular communist ones, apologize for theirs. There was a new sheriff in town, and and this one didn't let anyone intimidate her.

Conservatives were impressed. in 1984 William F Buckley Jr wrote two columns about her called "St. Jeane of the U.N." (in Parts I and II) , which National Review has conveniently reprinted on their website. Buckley wrote that the media had managed to attach a stigma to the use of the term "cold war", a term that Kirkpatrick felt was the correct way to describe relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. When confronted, Buckley wrote,
Mrs. Kirkpatrick answers that “We have been manipulated into feeling that it is warlike behavior on our part to register the fact that [the Soviets] are waging a full-scale ideological combat against us. Also, in the U.S., where intellectual categories are the objects of fashion, it became terribly unfashionable to call the cold war ‘cold war.’”
She was never one for the idiologically fashionable.

"They Always Blame America First"

Kirkpatrick may be best known, however, for her speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention, in which she attacked liberals for blaming the United States whenever something went wrong in the world. The relevant part of her address is worth quoting at length:
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.

When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the "blame America first crowd" didn't blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States.

But then, they always blame America first.

When the Soviet Union walked out of arms control negotiations, and refused even to discuss the issues, the San Francisco Democrats didn't blame Soviet intransigence. They blamed the United States.

But then, they always blame America first.

When Marxist dictators shoot their way to power in Central America, the San Francisco Democrats don't blame the guerrillas and their Soviet allies, they blame United States policies of 100 years ago.

But then, they always blame America first.

The American people know better.

They know that Ronald Reagan and the United States didn't cause Marxist dictatorship in Nicaragua, or the repression in Poland, or the brutal new offensives in Afghanistan, or the destruction of the Korean airliner, or the new attacks on religious and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, or the jamming of western broadcasts, or the denial of Jewish emigration, or the brutal imprisonment of Anatoly Shcharansky and Ida Nudel, or the obscene treatment of Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, or the re-Stalinization of the Soviet Union.

The American people know that it's dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause.

They understand just as the distinguished French writer, Jean Francois Revel, understands the dangers of endless self- criticism and self-denigration.

He wrote: "Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."
All you have to do is change the relevant proper nouns and the same speech could be delivered today.

Once a Democrat

Jeanne Kirkpatrick was perhaps the original neoconservative. While today it has become a term of opprobrium among liberals, back then it simply meant someone who had once been a Democrat but had become disillusioned with their party over it's adoption of a leftist foreign policy. Kirkpatrick had campaigned for Hubert Humphry, but had become very critical of President Carter and his policies. She became an advisor to Ronald Reagan, which led to her appointment as Ambassador to the UN.

Her most famous essay during her time of transformation was "Dictatorships and Double Standards" in 1979, published as a book with some of her other works in 1982. It was among the first serious political works I read and I found myself agreeing with it's precepts. In the piece she criticized Carter's foreign policy, and discussed the fate of the Shah of Iran and Somoza of Nicaragua. Her essential thesis was that by abandoning repressive rightist regimes, we allowed far worse ones to come to power. From the frying pan into the fire, as it were. She also pointed out that thus far no "socialist" or communist regime had willingly democratized, and that "the architects of contemporary American foreign policy have little idea of how to go about encouraging the liberalization of an autocracy."

Whatever one thinks of the details of her piece, it is hard to argue that Iran, for example is better off with its Khomeinist regime than it was under the Shah. It is very easy to moralize and say that you won't support a repressive government, but sometimes all the world offers is a choice between bad and worse.

She supported the Argentine junta led by General Galtieri in it's "dirty war" against leftist opposition. This provoked some criticism, some of it justified. I don't know enough about the situation in Argentinia to know whether a leftist government would have gone full-scale communist, and we can't go back and replay history using different variables.


In the end, though, what matters is that she was the right person at the right time. She, Reagan, and the others came to power at just the moment when it looked like the Soviet Union might win the Cold War after all. They stemmed, then reversed the tide, starting a series of events that eventually led to the collapse of the Evil Empire.

Along with Reagan, she was famously hated by the left. Their enthusiasm for international institutions such as the UN who's function seems to be more and more supporting dictators and terrorists, is distressing, to say the least. Her modern-day successor, John Bolton, is hated in a similar fashion. Appropriately, he is moving into her old office at the American Enterprise Institute.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, 1926 - 2006. RIP