Politics & Policy

Iron Lady

Remembering Jeane Kirkpatrick.

On Thursday, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick died. National Review Online gathered a group of friends, colleagues, and admirers to pay tribute.

Anne Bayefsky

To say Jeane was exceptional is an understatement. She was an exceptional diplomat, exceptional scholar, and above all, an exceptional human being. I came to know Jeane originally from her work at the United Nations, where she served in the 1980s and more recently in 2003 as American ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The job of U.S.-U.N. ambassador is not a pleasant one, since everything one holds dear — and assumes erroneously that democratic allies do too — is up for grabs all the time. It was a testament to Jeane’s love for her country and strength of purpose that she agreed to go back to the U.N. and its Human Rights Commission at the age of 76, where she found herself under constant attack as the human-rights bad guy among fellow members which included a Libyan chair, Syria, and Sudan. In this environment, Jeane exhibited her trademark qualities that made her great. She just said “No.” She would not be pushed into actions inimical to her deeply ingrained sense of decency and justice, no matter how unpopular it made her in the midst of a menacing crowd of bullies and thugs. When everyone else was intimidated Jeane was not. She never forgot who and what she represented, and strongly believed there was no substitute for clarity of vision and goals. Ironically, this made her unpalatable to most in the human-rights movement, who have never understood either the threat to our way of life or the deeply humanistic character that drove whatever Jeane Kirkpatrick did. She will be sorely missed.

– Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and at Touro College Law Center. She is also editor of www.EyeontheUN.org .

William J. Bennett

It was early in the Reagan administration–a lot of the older-GOP guard was still a little distrustful of this neoconservative group, wasn’t sure what to make of us, or even to trust us. Some of us were still Democrats after all (including Jeane and myself).

Members of the administration used to give talks to the larger administration, I think they were in Constitution Hall. Jeane’s turn came and I remember feeling a chill in the room…until she took to the podium. She took her glasses off in that wonderful professorial way she had, cleared her throat, and said, “The U.S. has been getting kicked around a lot lately at the UN, and I just want you to know President Reagan and I think that’s wrong. And as long as I’m here, we’re not going to be kicked around anymore!” The place went crazy. All doubts left the room right there and then.

She and I became closer and closer over the years. She was a strong woman who believed in a strong America because she believed strongly in freedom and democracy. She made us all better, she made America better. She was our, America’s, Iron Lady.

William J. Bennett , former secretary of Education and drug czar, was one of the co-founders of Empower America, with Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

I first met Jeane Kirkpatrick in 1974 as a student in her Georgetown University course about France’s Fourth Republic. She brought to that extraordinarily esoteric — not to say tedious — topic a mastery of the subject matter, strong views about its heroes and villains and a passion for persuasively communicating her insights to others.

Over the ensuing years, the world came to know these qualities from her service as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and a prominent member of Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet, her high-profile appearances on behalf of her adopted Republican Party and its candidates, her plethora of books, and her innumerable articles and interviews. She established herself as America’s “Iron Lady” — a woman whose rhetorical skills, commitment to principle and fearlessness in the face of evil was a perfect counterpart to the British prime minister who first earned that sobriquet, Lady Margaret Thatcher.

In the international arena, Ambassador Kirkpatrick was distinguished by her acumen with respect to foreign policy, national security, and the nature of dictatorships. She was convinced that the United States could and must prevail over the Soviet Union — not just for America’s sake, but for that of the free world more generally. During her time in the Reagan administration, she played a key role in developing and implementing the strategy that would eventually take down the Evil Empire.

On the domestic front, Kirkpatrick may be best remembered for coining the term “San Francisco Democrat” — an epithet of continuing relevance as the quintessential example of that political genus, Nancy Pelosi, is poised to become Speaker of the House of Representatives. A self-described “lifelong” Democrat, America’s ambassador eventually found herself unable to associate with what became that party’s guiding ideology, which she called “blame-America-first.” Jeane Kirkpatrick’s example inspired millions of Americans to abandon party affiliations in support of robust national security policies and those, like President Reagan, who championed them.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was a national treasure. Farewell, our Iron Lady.

– Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy .

Newt Gingrich

I first began working with Jeane Kirkpatrick when she was President Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations and was immediately struck by her intensity, intelligence, and courage.

She was comfortable standing up in the United Nations and representing America against all comers. She was comfortable arguing in the Reagan Cabinet against those who did not understand the need to defeat Communism.

In some ways Jeane Kirkpatrick rivaled Margaret Thatcher as one of the most effective women warriors I have ever seen.

I was delighted years later to be able to work with her at the American Enterprise Institute where her wisdom and her memories of what had worked for Ronald Reagan helped me understand how we could apply Reagan’s principles in defeating our enemies today. She was enormously influential in shaping Winning the Future and shaping the work I’ve being doing on the Defense Policy Board.

Everyone who knew Jeane had their life enriched by her and all of us will miss her deeply.”

– Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America.

Seth Leibsohn

I had two interactions with Dr. Kirkpatrick worth retelling, but I preface them by saying all my interactions with her were nothing if not profiles in decency and humility by her. I introduced her once to my mom and once to my wife — she took more interest in them than me. Smart woman.

It was September 12, 2001. Jack Kemp, Bill Bennett, and I were sitting down and talking at our conference table. Bill and Jack agreed that we should write up a proposal for Congress to declare war against Islamic-terrorist-sponsoring states. We wrote it up together and I called Dr. Kirkpatrick to get her okay. I read it once to her, and without a moment’s hesitation or pause on the phone she said “put my name on it too and fire it off. Send it.”

A year later, when Israel was taking a lot of diplomatic and editorial heat, Jack and Bill decided we should write a simple accounting of the real facts in the Middle East, the truth about Israel and her enemies — something simple and strong to clarify a lot of fog we saw.

The three of us put it together over a couple of days, and I faxed it over to Dr. Kirkpatrick to see if she was okay with putting her name on it, too. I called her and I asked if she had read the Israel piece. She said, “Yes, I have.” I could hear a pause in her voice, she was hesitant to say more than that she had read it. I asked if we could put her name on it. She said, “It needs some work.” “Do you think it’s too strong?” I asked. “It’s just not strong enough,” she replied, and she went through that document line by line, toughening up each sentence, fact, and argument.

She actually made Bill, Jack, and (if I can put myself in there) me seem soft on Israel, at least that day. She made it a better document though, and it still gets reprinted here and there, and broadcast on talk radio. We still get calls on it from time to time, too–it’s to her credit.

God Bless Jeane Kirkpatrick, an American original. May she have God’s peace now, and may we not soon forget what she taught us all.

–Seth Leibsohn is currently a fellow at the Claremont Institute and producer of Bill Bennett’s Morning in America . He is the former vice president of Empower America.

Jay Nordlinger

The first time I met her, we were in an elevator. I said, “Ah, the woman of whom Bill Buckley said, ‘She ought to be woven into the flag as the 51st star.’” She said, “That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said about me.” I said, “That’s the nicest thing anybody ever said about anybody.”

I talked to her every chance I got — consulted her on a hundred issues. What she told me dots my writings, and speech.

My favorite story about her involves Sakharov. Facing a group of visiting American dignitaries, he said, “Kirkpatski, Kirkpatski, which of you is Kirkpatski?” Others gestured to Jeane. He said, “Your name is known in every cell in the Gulag.” The reason was, she had named the names of Soviet political prisoners, on the floor of the U.N.

She was at the U.N. when I was coming of age, politically. I was glued to her. She taught me a lot. I could quote her, praise her, and marvel at her all day. I didn’t know her well, but I loved her.

– Jay Nordlinger is National Review’s managing editor.

JanA Novak

I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that Jeane Kirkpatrick deeply influenced my life. But she did it without even a specific word or a special bon mot. She led by leading.

Although many people turned to her for counsel and wisdom, I never expressly did; I simply watched, and was inspired. Instead, I learned from her by example — and that is often the best kind of learning.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick was one of the first “famous” people I met who truly made an impression on me. I’m a little embarrassed to say that wasn’t originally because of Jeanne Kirkpatrick, but because of who accompanied her: her Secret Service agents.

When I was younger, my parents threw wonderful dinner parties in our home. Mrs. Kirkpatrick was a frequent guest — and after becoming ambassador to the United Nations, she was not deterred. So I spent a couple of lovely evenings over that time, hanging out in our basement with her Secret Service agents, examining their machine guns, and writing in my diary that “I got drunk on Coke; and I want to have Secret Service agents when I grow up.”

That time, it may not have been her words of wisdom that inspired me, but her status — but inspire me it did. And the next time she came, I chose to sit upstairs, squirming at the dinner table, just so I could hear from this woman who had her own bodyguards.

Later, after the 1984 election, cheering on Reagan and Bush’s victory in the hallways of my middle school, my best friend and I looked at each other, and in perfect unison began shouting “Kemp/Kirkpatrick ‘88.” It never crossed either of our minds how revolutionary it would be to have a woman on the ticket. We simply and innocently wanted Jeane Kirkpatrick!

She was a tough, plainspoken woman, proud of her Midwestern roots, her clever ideas, her practical sense, and adamant that everyone else behave the way she did. That is, that everyone speak forthrightly, think big and act with commonsense.

She never instructed me or anyone in these concepts — she did not have to. She simply lived them. And try to follow her lead we must.

– Jana Novak, who spent nearly a decade working in national politics, is co-author of Washington’s God , and a freelance writer and professional dog-walker on Capitol Hill.

Michael Novak

Jeane Kirkpatrick had been failing for some weeks, with many ailments including heart, a loss of desire to eat, dislike of medications. At last, not long after she had reached the grand age of 80, on December 7, this sturdy Oklahoman succombed quietly in her bed, one of her best friends at her side.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was loved by Soviet dissidents whose cause she so bravely championed. In Jeane Kirkpatrick, Israel had one of its firmest and warmest friends. In Afghanistan under Soviet occupation, her name came to be revered. In Nicaragua a large unit of freedom fighters against the Communist regime called themselves “the Kirkpatrick brigade.” In Angola, in Chile, in the Philippines, in Poland, Hungary, and Cuba — everywhere that people suffered under oppression, and found few others to champion their dignity and aspirations and human worth, the name “Jeane Kirkpatrick” brought cheer.

In the United States, though, we may have had more need of Jeane Kirkpatrick than anyone else did. After four years of a foreign policy described by Margaret Thatcher as “Lose a country, gain a restaurant,” Jeane Kirkpatrick insisted on respect for the United States at the United Nations, on straightforwardedness in talking to this nation and about this nation, and on integrity in matching words to actions. No more of this double dealing — with one hand begging the United States for aid, money, food, aircraft, military intervention, — and with the other hand slapping the cheeks of this nation in public, and (until Jeane came along) with impunity. Jeane said to the United Nations: “Play it straight, and play it fair.” To the San Francisco Democrats (no longer her kind of Democrats) she said: “They always blame America first!”

Where Jeane grew up, the corn was as high as an elephant’s eye, and the sky above was vast and free and inspiriting. She grew up with dignity and freedom in her bones. When I hear the words of our national anthem, “The land of the free, and the home of the brave!” I think of Jeane. Freedom — for others too — is what she lived for. She fought to make others free, and she was very, very brave. She took much abuse. She thought it worth it.

– Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Novak’s own website is www.michaelnovak.net .

Claudia Rosett

It’s easy to forget how grim a scene confronted America when Jeane Kirkpatrick in November, 1979, published her famous essay in Commentary magazine, on “Dictatorships and Double Standards.” Much as Islamic fascism threatens us today, totalitarian expansion, then in the garb of Soviet Communism, was on a roll. Soviet troops were about to sweep into Afghanistan, the ayatollahs had just begun their reign of terror in Iran, Indochina had recently gone Communist, Africa and Central America had become theaters in which Soviet clients and their Kremlin advisers battled to expand what President Ronald Reagan would a few years later describe as the evil empire. In Washington, Jimmy Carter, then president, was the human face of the pious and hollow intellectual fashions of the time, preaching conciliation and practicing surrender.

Kirkpatrick had no patience with fashion. Her passion, then, and throughout her long life, was truth. Her loyalties were to the United States, which she understood, correctly, to be the world’s great guardian of freedom — but one badly in need of defense within its own camp. As Reagan’s ambassador from 1981-85 to the profoundly anti-American institution that was, and is, the U.N., Jeane Kirkpatrick spoke up and fought for our country’s interests as none in that seat except Ambassador John Bolton have done since. Today, in a world again beset by totalitarian shadows, with apologists for America again ascendant in Washington, we can best honor her by keeping faith in times ahead with the courage and vision she brought to the defense of our country.

– Claudia Rosett is a journalist in residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies .

Pedro A. Sanjuan

Working with Jeane Kirkpatrick was for me always an intellectual and an emotional challenge. Unlike many so-called foreign-policy “experts” who seek to produce neutral analyses of events, Jeane passionately dissected the logical components of international politics, always seeking to understand and feel what was going on in the world, in Argentina, in Russia, in Central Asia. I heard her once convincingly tell the Argentine embassy, at a dinner in her honor, that their country was highly sophisticated politically but couldn’t govern itself. The audience, made up of Argentine patriots, had to agree with her.

At the American Enterprise Institute, where I first met her, everyone would try to catch her in her office to argue about matters, which she felt and understood both viscerally and intellectually. Ronald Reagan read her paper “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” and decided before meeting her face to face that he would need her at the U.N. to speak convincingly and passionately. One talked to Jeane with a purpose, for a purpose, and on purpose.

Jeane Kirkpatrick would not have made a good national-security adviser, but she would have been a great president of the United States. Many thought she would pursue such a political career when she spoke to the Republican National Convention. She chose to remain a passionate academic instead.

Pedro A. Sanjuan is author of The UN Gang: A Memoir of Incompetence, Corruption, Espionage, Anti-Semitism and Islamic Extremism at the UN Secretariat.

Vin Weber

To those of us who came into politics during the Reagan era, Jeane Kirkpatrick was the single most formative figure in helping to shape our foreign policy views, other than the president himself.

She was surely the “Iron Lady” of American politics in the final years of the cold war, as well as a passionate advocate of freedom, democracy, human rights, the state of Israel and countless other great causes.

I’m sure many others will write of these contributions.

But my favorite recollection of Jeane is quite different.

In 1993 Jeane, Jack Kemp, Bill Bennett, Ted Forstmann, and I formed Empower America and we traveled around the country in the first of the Clinton years spreading the message of the loyal opposition.

One of our first trips was to Texas where Jeane also had family living.

After our speechifying and politicking, I asked Jeane if she would be joining us for dinner and she said she would be seeing her family. We walked out of the room where our meetings had been held, into the hallway and almost immediately a beaming toddler rushed into Jeane’s arms crying “Grandma.”

For me this was a revelation. The Iron Lady…the towering intellect…the pillar of strength for all of us…was also a real human being.

In the following years I was lucky enough to get to know Jeane as a person and in every way that impression from Dallas was reinforced.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was a warm, wonderful, witty human being. She was a devoted and loving wife, mother, and grandmother. She was a good friend.

And she still found time to help save the world.

– Vin Weber is managing partner of Clark & Weinstock’s Washington office.

NR SymposiumNational Review symposia are discussions featuring contributors to and friends of the magazine.


The Latest

The Great Elucidator

The Great Elucidator

An inspiring one-hour documentary about the conservative public intellectual Thomas Sowell serves as a superb intro to his thinking.