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|Goodbye, Jeane Kirkpatrick; RIP|
Dec. 9th, 2006 at 3:29 am
Jeane Kirkpatrick, the first women to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, died at the age of 80 of congestive heart failure on Thursday, December 7th. Arguably the finest foreign policy thinker of the late 20th century and among the most accomplished political scientists of her generation, it is fitting that she is no hero to most feminists. She is certainly one to me, and I hope she will be to my daughters as well.
A ruthlessly independent thinker, Kirkpatrick started her intellectual life as a socialist, became a full professor at Georgetown University in the 1960s, became a political activist for Democrats, began vocally criticizing the foreign policy of the Carter administration, supported and worked for Ronald Reagan, returned to academia, and became a Republican — in that order.
Whether she was quoting Harry Truman to Republicans, emphasizing the importance of the Marshall plan in post-WWII Europe, incurring the unforgiving wrath of the British by favoring Galtieri during the Falkland Islands War, coining the term “Blame America First” to refer to the post-Vietnam foreign policy of Democrats, or petitioning Congress not to withhold UN dues, she spoke her mind and she commanded respect.
So much of what she said was controversial at the time, but in retrospect is painfully obvious. If we wish to learn from history, it is our duty to read her writing, to understand her thinking, so that we can learn from it and avoid repeating the mistakes that she fought so hard to reverse. I’ll end this with a quote from her speech to the 1984 Republican Convention. It is a fiery speech, heavier on rhetoric than she allowed herself to be in her serious writing. Nevertheless, it contains more than just a hint of applicability to the current approach that many politicians take when purporting identify the “underlying causes” of the world’s problems:
Readers wishing to become more familiar with her thought may enjoy reading one of her essays. The collection of essays that she wrote for Commentary can be found here (“How the PLO Was Legitimized” is a must read. “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” the essay from which the book takes its name, has become a classic and is available there as well.)
I also recommend reading one of her many books, like Dictatorships and Double Standards: Rationalism & Reason in Politics (my personal favorite) or The Withering Away of the Totalitarian State.
Her latest book, Making War to Keep Peace, is due to be released February of 2007.
Readers wishing to read other obituaries for Jeane Kirkpatrick can find them here (by her friend Norman Pohoretz, Editor-at-Large of Commentary) and here (by Georgetown University, providing a good summary of her career achievements) and here (AP’s informative, if boilerplate, obituary).