I was awakened this morning by a call from a friend informing me that Jeane Kirkpatrick had died. Ambassador Kirkpatrick, until fairly recently, was a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where I interned last year, and her office was only a few steps away from my bay on the 11th floor. She later went on to help found the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Jeane would make a point of stopping for a chat every time she passed my bay at AEI, and we had many fascinating conversations about foreign policy, and I was constantly struck by her powerful mind, on which, mercifully, age was not taking its toll.
Being a somewhat bumptious sort, I would try to tease out her views on the issues facing us today—at the time, it was the floundering Iraq mission—and it was clear that her contributions deserved a more public airing. Fortunately, prior to her death, Jeane had finished writing a new book on foreign policy. Though I have not yet had the pleasure to read it (it will be published shortly), I am told by those whose judgment I trust that it is excellent.
I remember one particular conversation with Jeane during which, and this
was the Tory in me speaking, I quizzed her about her role in the Falklands crisis, which had received unfavorable reviews
in Margaret Thatcher's memoirs Downing Street Years. Jeane displayed her
characteristic graciousness, explaining the basis for her skepticism at being
too supportive of
Jeane explained that she was worried that an embarrassment of the Argentinean government over the Falklands might lead to its replacement by a communist one. Jeane's thinking flowed from the powerful, and powerfully American traditions of the Monroe Doctrine, as well as her own thesis in Dictatorships and Double Standards, which foreign policy thinkers today, especially those specializing in the Middle East, are I think admonished to read. (A link to the original essay is here, and its book form here).
In vivid detail, Jeane explained that hindsight had vindicated Lady Thatcher's decision, not her own. Yet, in this concession, Jeane's graciousness and honor came through, and I came to see that any sensible policymaker in her place would have had the same fears as her, and would probably have come to the same decision: I, with all my sympathies for the Anglosphere and the old order, certainly would have.
Jeane then spoke to me about the profound ambiguity of foreign policy idealism that animated her Dictatorships and Double Standards thesis, subtly calling attention to a particular weakness in my own foreign policy thinking. I would say that if there is one essay that those who are called neoconservatives should read, it is Dictatorships and Double Standards.
Ultimately, difficult policy decisions cannot be entirely based on ex ante normative ideals, but prudential concerns, animated by history. Fortunately, this underscores the need for powerfully smart, and idealistic, statesmen, of which Jeane Kirkpatrick surely was one. Withal, Jeane's contribution to U.S. foreign policy was very significant, and her death is serious and in many ways sad, but she leaves behind many friends, a goodly number of acolytes, and a very, very significant legacy. May she rest in peace.