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Jeane Kirkpatrick 1926 - 2006 // As U.S. envoy, she told the U.N. a thing or two

Published Dec. 9, 2006

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the Reagan administration's first U.N. ambassador and a strong beacon of neoconservative thought, died Thursday (Dec. 7, 2006) at her home in Bethesda, Md. She was 80. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Ms. Kirkpatrick was the first American woman to serve as U.N. ambassador. She was the only woman, and the only Democrat, in President Ronald Reagan's National Security Council.

"When she put her feet under the desk of the Oval Office, the president listened," said William Clark, Reagan's national security adviser during 1982 and 1983. "And he usually agreed with her."

Reagan brought her into his innermost foreign policy circle, the National Security Planning Group. As part of that group, Ms. Kirkpatrick weighed the risks and rewards of clandestine warfare in Central America, covert operations against Libya, the disastrous deployment of U.S. Marines in Lebanon, the invasion of Grenada and support for rebels in Afghanistan.

Though that work took place in secret, she became a national figure. In November 1983, New York Times columnist William Safire called her "the hottest hawk on the Republican lecture trail, the most respected neoconservative voice on the Sunday panel shows, and the only woman who could today be considered as a serious possibility for president." She was a star at the 1984 Republican national convention, deriding the Democrats as the "blame America first" party.

She changed her political affiliation after leaving the Reagan administration and thought about seeking the Republican nomination for president. "So many people talked to me about it that they finally persuaded me to consider it," she said in October 1987. But she decided against it, fearing she would split the conservative vote and help elect the more moderate Bush, the eventual winner whom she regarded as an unworthy heir of the Reagan legacy.

Ms. Kirkpatrick was a political science professor with no diplomatic experience when she arrived at the United Nations in 1981. Her mission was to wage rhetorical warfare against Moscow. She sought to restore the international standing of the United States after Vietnam and the Iran hostage crisis.

Her performance at the U.N. made her Reagan's favorite envoy. "You're taking off that big sign that we used to wear that said 'Kick Me,' " the president told her. He admired her strong diplomatic stands and her undiplomatic language.

At the United Nations, she defended Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the American invasion of Grenada in 1983. She argued for El Salvador's right-wing junta and against Nicaragua's left-wing ruling council, the Sandinistas.

In private, she supported American efforts to sustain the contras, the rebel group that tried to overthrow the Sandinistas with help from the CIA. She was a key participant in a March 1981 National Security Planning Group meeting that produced a $19-million covert action plan to make the contras a fighting force.

She is survived by two sons, Stuart, a Buddhist minister in Ann Arbor, Mich., and John, a lawyer in Miami. A third son, Douglas, died earlier this year. Her husband of 40 years, Evron, died in 1995.

Quotable Kirkpatrick

She was an undiplomatic diplomat

"History is a better guide than good intentions."

"Dictatorship and Double Standards," Commentary, November 1979

"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."

Also from "Dictatorship and Double Standards''

"I don't think that Fidel Castro knows how to run a government that must provide the necessities in a society."

"Toward Humane Governance," Religion & Liberty, March/April 1982

"(Democrats) can't get elected unless things get worse - and things won't get worse unless they get elected."

Time, June 17, 1985

"They said that saving Grenada from terror and totalitarianism was the wrong thing to do - they didn't blame Cuba or the communists for threatening American students and murdering Grenadians - they blamed the United States instead. But then, somehow, they always blame America first."

Speaking about Democrats in her speech at the 1984 Republican national convention