How Professor Kirkpatrick became Ronald Reagan’s woman at the U.N.
The Weekly Standard
Nov 12, 2012
Redacted from a review by Mary Eberstadt of the book
“Political Woman” by Peter Collier.
Jeane Jordan Kirkpatricck was a Georgetown professor who served as ambassador to the United Nations for four years (1981-85) appointed by President Ronald Reagan. She was a political and intellectual phenomenon like no other. Her legacy has been overdue for a serious look at least since her death in 2006, at age 80. That fact, taken together with this unwanted moment of political déjà vu, makes author Peter Collier’s sprightly and entertaining new biography timely food for thought.
… Kirkpatrick was wife to a distinguished and influential political scientist, Evron “Kirk” Kirkpatrick and mother to three sons. She insisted all her life that family came first—yet ended up one of the most visible public women of her time. A true political and intellectual pioneer in various worlds dominated by men, she was scorned rather than embraced by the feminists of her era—Gloria Steinem called her a “female impersonator” and Naomi Wolf maundered that Jeane was “uninflected by the experiences of the female body”—even as the boys’ clubs of politics and diplomacy tried to lock her out.
Many people simply adored her, as those crossing her orbit soon learned. Jeane had ardent fans not only in the United States, where she spent her later years reading, writing, and giving speeches, but also in places where the ideas she battled were written in blood. Collier relates, for example, a visit she made to the Soviet Union during glasnost. Andrei Sakharov, who had spent years in prison, “came up to her delegation saying, ‘Kirkpatski, Kirkpatski, which of you is Kirkpatski?’ When Jeane was pointed out to him, he seized her hands emotionally and said, ‘Your name is known in every cell of the gulag.’ ”
She was an academic as adroit with a sound bite as with a lectern and pointer, and she was further graced with a voice so musically deep and unforgettable that it could have made reading a menu an act of profundity. “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” probably the most influential document ever penned by a Georgetown professor on summer vacation, is a case in point of how disparate strengths spelled unique synergy in Jeane Kirkpatrick. One thing that helped to make her a sensation was that she was something even rarer than a political woman: a political woman with a genuine sense of humor.
Collier also nicely conveys the spirit of the Reagan years, especially the bonhomie shared by those who saw themselves as the president’s revolutionaries. The conviction that they were on the right side of morality and history led the Reaganites to defend American interests with a confidence and vitality not seen since. As Collier relates, the chairman of the National Security Council, Richard Allen, once asked Reagan about his vision for the outcome of the Cold War. “We win, they lose,” Reagan replied. “What do you think about that?”
In an early address to the General Assembly, she charged that the U.N. was a place where “moral outrage [has been] distributed like violence in a protection racket.” Jeane Kirkpatrick simply did not believe that acquiescence was the better part of valor, and even allies were not spared the sometimes-scorching blasts from the ambassador’s office.
The United States, she said famously and often, had taken off the “Kick Me” sign. The Kirkpatrick team meant business. And, an extraordinary team it was, including, over the years, her legal adviser Allan Gerson, Kenneth Adelman, Jose Sorzano, Alan Keyes, Carl Gershman, and other intellectual warriors, as well as fiercely loyal assistants, including Jackie Tillman, Shannon Sorzano, Louise Brunsdale, and Timothy Roybal. And of course, the irrepressible Charles Lichenstein, who would go down in populist history for telling the Soviets that if they ever succeeded in moving the United Nations out of the United States, the American delegation would “be down at the dockside waving you a fond farewell as you sail off into the sunset.”
… They also took the fight beyond Turtle Bay. The U.S. team tracked anti-American votes, and sent the tallies to members of Congress. When another anti-American gambit—the threatened expulsion of Israel—turned serious, Jeane worked with her allies in Congress on a resolution stating that if Israel were, indeed, expelled, the United States would withhold its contributions and withdraw itself from the U.N.
In 1983, when the Soviet Union shot down a South Korean civilian airliner and brazenly lied about it, Jeane riveted the world when she presented the Security Council with a recording of Soviet communications proving the sickening reality: The Evil Empire had, in fact, just killed 269 people in cold blood.
Jeane’s later years were spent as a columnist, speaker, and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where she enjoyed the company of friends such as Michael Novak, Irving Kristol, and others of serious mien. Her Making War to Keep Peace (2007) certainly rewards reading, as does the rest of her writing over the years.
… Certain fundamental convictions had put her on a collision course with a new strain of neoconservative thinking after the Cold War. Having cut her scholarly teeth on totalitarianism in Germany, Russia, and China, she was allergic to utopianism and anything that smacked of it.
… This winning biography is a welcome opportunity to introduce a new generation of political thinkers and doers to a remarkable subject, and to reflect on the larger meaning of Jeane Kirkpatrick’s life’s work. At the least, her fierce and resolutely unapologetic defense of American interests reminds the world that words always count, that rhetoric is never just rhetoric, and that ignoring what adversaries actually say is a perilous indulgence that the free world could not, and cannot, afford.
P.S. (“Leading from behind” was never part of her lexicon.) jsk
Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution.
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