Friday, December 08, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick 1926-2006

The greatest US ambassador to the UN died earlier today. Jeane Kirkpatrick was 80. Only Daniel Patrick Moynihan is even close to her league (John Bolton being an aborted case of what-might-have-been but for the Sedition Party).

Catholic blogger Peter Sean Bradley has a strong remembrance up, with several links, including the one to the most important thing she ever wrote -- the Commentary article "Dictatorships and Double Standards." Reading through it again just now, it hasn't aged a bit. Several passages strike me as more relevant than ever before.

In each of these countries (Iran, Nicaragua, China, Cuba and others), the American effort to impose liberalization and democratization on a government confronted with violent internal opposition not only failed, but actually assisted the coming to power of new regimes in which ordinary people enjoy fewer freedoms and less personal security than under the previous autocracy--regimes, moreover, hostile to American interests and policies.

Thus, in the hope of strengthening a government, U.S. policymakers are led, mistake after mistake, to impose measures almost certain to weaken its authority. Hurried efforts to force complex and unfamiliar political practices on societies lacking the requisite political culture, tradition, and social structures not only fail to produce desired outcomes; if they are undertaken at a time when the traditional regime is under attack, they actually facilitate the job of the insurgents.
Vietnam presumably taught us that the United States could not serve as the world's policeman; it should also have taught us the dangers of trying to be the world's midwife to democracy when the birth is scheduled to take place under conditions of guerrilla war.

There are echoes in those passages and throughout the essay of such different figures as Machiavelli, Lenin and Arendt. But it's not only its brilliance, but the current context that makes "Dictatorships and Double Standards" remarkable and so worth reading still and anew. The habits of mind that Kirkpatrick decries in Jimmy Carter are just as present in the current administration, and its rhetoric, actions and (most important) intellectual assumptions in Iraq are based on the same (mis)understandings of history and politics.¹ Whether from Bush's incuriosity (not the same thing as stupidity) or from the limits on what a well-consciousness-raised American populace and media elite will listen to -- that cannot be known.

But there's also a political point to be made. If anyone was a neocon hero because of foreign policy particularly, it was Jeane Kirkpatrick. Bolton was an admirer of hers who called for a moment of silence at the American UN mission and held an emotional press conference. In the last few years, we've heard all kinds of ignorant ranting (from people who know no better and others who should) about how neocons are democracy-idolators looking to "End Evil" through secular messianism and the Purity Of Essence of our precious bodily fluids and all that. But yet, Jeane Kirkpatrick is the figure in recent American intellectual life most associated with the idea of supporting friendly but repressive regimes. She scorned "winning hearts and minds" and all the rest of it.

The rest of the President's statement graphically illustrates the blinding power of ideology on his interpretation of events. When he says that "the Somoza regime, lost the confidence of the people," the President implies that the regime had previously rested on the confidence of "the people," but that the situation had now changed. In fact, the Somoza regime had never rested on popular will (but instead on manipulation, force, and habit), and was not being ousted by it. It was instead succumbing to arms and soldiers. However, the assumption that the armed conflict of Sandinistas and Somozistas was the military equivalent of a national referendum enabled the President to imagine that it could be, and should be, settled by the people of Nicaragua.

To know Kirkpatrick (and others) is to know how silly and just-plain-ignorant-of-what-they-say are so many of the criticisms of "The Neocons." And the walk off is as brilliant an eff-you by a woman who had spine and who understood the nature of authority and credibility, which our high-minded humanists and leftist clerics do not.

If, moreover, revolutionary leaders describe the United States as the scourge of the 20th century, the enemy of freedom-loving people, the perpetrator of imperialism, racism, colonialism, genocide, war, then they are not authentic democrats or, to put it mildly, friends. Groups which define themselves as enemies should be treated as enemies. The United States is not in fact a racist, colonial power, it does not practice genocide, it does not threaten world peace with expansionist activities. In the last decade especially we have practiced remarkable forbearance everywhere and undertaken the "unilateral restraints on defense spending" recommended by Brzezinski as appropriate for the technetronic era. We have also moved further, faster, in eliminating domestic racism than any multiracial society in the world or in history.
For these reasons and more, a posture of continuous self-abasement and apology vis-a-vis the Third World is neither morally necessary nor politically appropriate. No more is it necessary or appropriate to support vocal enemies of the United States because they invoke the rhetoric of popular liberation. It is not even necessary or appropriate for our leaders to forswear unilaterally the use of military force to counter military force. Liberal idealism need not be identical with masochism, and need not be incompatible with the defense of freedom and the national interest.


If only the Iraq Study Group had been composed of people like Kirkpatrick, it might actually have said something valuable. On the day she died, she is already missed.

UPDATE: Here is Norman Podhoretz's tribute to Kirkpatrick in the Weekly Standard. And woe unto me for not mentioning yesterday the other great contribution (besides "Dictatorships and Double Standards") she made to American discourse. Two of the greatest and most-accurate soundbytes:

Yet even before she had formally switched parties, she was chosen to speak at the Republican National Convention in 1984, where she stole the show by denouncing the "San Francisco Democrats"--their convention that year had been in San Francisco--who "always blame America first."

So maybe that's what killed La Jeane. The thought of a San Francisco Democrat from the blame-America-first crowd as House speaker was too much for her to bear.

Podhoretz also confirms something I suspected while rereading "Dictatorships" last night and alluded to, but never outright said -- that Kirkpatrick had strong doubts about the War on Terror:

Nor did the outbreak on 9/11 of what I persist in calling World War IV tempt her back into battle. She had serious reservations about the prudence of the Bush Doctrine, which she evidently saw neither as an analogue of the Truman Doctrine nor as a revival of the Reaganite spirit in foreign policy. Even so, she was clearly reluctant to join in the clamor against it, which for all practical purposes meant relegating herself to the sidelines.

¹ It should go without saying that however feckless and flawed the Bush administration is on this count, the Democrats are 10 times worse and 100 times more self-righteous.
² The Financial Times obit says Kirkpatrick and Alexander Haig were pro-Argentina during the Falklands War. Izzat so? That was certainly true of her, I remember, but my memory also says Haig was pro-Britain from his time as NATO commander and that he won out.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Eternal rest grant unto her O'Lord and may perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and all the faithfully departed rest in peace.


Jeane Kirkpatrick proved that to be a great ambassador, you don't always have to be a good least as how the elitist diplomatic community believes what makes a good diplomat.

Yes, I agree John Bolton would have been a Jeane Kirkpatrick with facial hair if it were not for the Sedition party and the efforts of RINO former Sen. Lincoln Chafee.