It was that Pinochet was Latin America's first successful "contrarevolucionario." Even before Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher held their nations' political reins and before Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul (though obviously, all hail them too) -- Pinochet refuted the claim that socialism or communism were The Future. That their gains were irreversible. There was no Brezhnev Doctrine. That a gaggle of Che Guevara posters did not produce an irresistable force. In other words, he stiffened the spine of free men everywhere.
Don't believe that the decade-plus hounding of Pinochet from one overreaching internatiuonal court to another bullying Marxoid tribunal has anything to do with human-rights abuses (though there is no doubt Pinochet committed some). But the Usual Suspects will find any and every excuse for such abuses when they are committed (and usually on a greater scale) by leftist or anti-American regimes. Whether it's Castro or Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein or -- liberals become cultural relativists fully worthy of Franz Boas or Margaret Mead. But when bad shit is done (and it is bad shit, no question about it) by a rightist regime, pull out "the court of mankind," "human nature" references, and an imperialism about political cultures worthy of Theodore Roosevelt.
As I write, another Latin American dictator is on his death bed. He was in power almost 15 years before Pinochet and has been in power for 15 years since the Chilean stepped down. And Fidel Castro has turned Cuba into a hellhole. Had Pinochet (with the US's backing, natch) not acted to overthrow the Marxist crackpot Allende, Chile probably would look like Cuba today. The Andes would shield Argentina and the world's driest desert buffers Peru, but Cuba is surrounded by water, and still anyone who can flee does.
But Pinochet, like his model Francisco Franco, stepped down in 1990, leaving Chile with a strong economy and a political culture that had grown up, cleansed of its radical elements. Today, Chile has a secure democracy of unquestioned legitimacy and even a socialist president (who denied this great man a state funeral, but that's her democratic privilege), though of a kind closer to Western European social democrats than the Castro-loving Allende and the 60s Marxists who lionized him.
Even at the end, Pinochet was fighting the good fight, against foreign courts claiming universal jurisdiction (i.e., the end of sovereignty) and trying to criminalize politics and cancel the kinds of "settlements" necessary to end tyrannical regimes without a massive bloodbath. he even helped Britain in the Falklands War against Argentina, something for which Thatcher was grateful to the end, when he was a powerless old man trying to get medical care abroad.
It's especially ironic that Pinochet's death should have so close to that of Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who almost could have been writing about Pinochet specifically in "Dictatorships and Double Standards." That affinity was noted in a favorable piece on the editorial page of the Washington Post. Yes ... the Washington Post. Not the Times. The Post. It was even similarly titled ("A Dictator's Double Standard"). When I read it, I asked myself -- who put crack or LSD in the Post's water supply? What caused this sudden outbreak of sanity, which is for them insanity. Here is the last two grafs, a fitting epitaph for the two who have already left us, and the one who can't leave us soon enough.
By way of contrast, Fidel Castro -- Mr. Pinochet's nemesis and a hero to many in Latin America and beyond -- will leave behind an economically ruined and freedomless country with his approaching death. Mr. Castro also killed and exiled thousands. But even when it became obvious that his communist economic system had impoverished his country, he refused to abandon that system: He spent the last years of his rule reversing a partial liberalization. To the end he also imprisoned or persecuted anyone who suggested Cubans could benefit from freedom of speech or the right to vote.
The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet's coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the provocative and energetic scholar and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who died Thursday. In "Dictatorships and Double Standards," a work that caught the eye of President Ronald Reagan, Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.