Jeane J. Kirkpatrick (born 1926) was a professor, a Democrat turned Republican, and the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Jeane Jordan (Kirkpatrick) was born November 19, 1926, in Duncan, Oklahoma. As a child she was raised in small towns in both Oklahoma and Illinois. She attended college in New York, graduating from Barnard College in 1948, and completed her masters degree in 1950 at Columbia University. She married Evron Kirkpatrick in 1955 and started teaching at Georgetown University in 1967. She completed her dissertation on the Peronist movement in Argentina and received her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1968. The Kirkpatricks raised three sons.
Kirkpatrick was long an active member of the Democratic Party. She and her husband both worked as supporters of Hubert Humphrey throughout his political career. She became frustrated with the liberal approach to public policies and with the Democratic Party during the Cold War and was alienated by the liberals' control of the party when George McGovern won the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1972. She chose to become an organizer of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority—a group referred to as part of the neoconservative movement.
In the late 1970s Kirkpatrick frequently criticized the foreign policies of President Jimmy Carter's administration toward the Third World in pieces she wrote for Commentary, a magazine oriented toward conservatives. It was an article prepared for that magazine in 1979, "Dictatorships and Double Standards," that caught the attention of the 1980 Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan. During the campaign Kirkpatrick endorsed Reagan for the presidency and won an appointment as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations with rank of cabinet member when Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981.
Kirkpatrick's views on foreign policy, particularly toward the Third World, were influential in many of the Reagan administration's proposals. The magazine article "Dictatorships and Double Standards" had elaborated the argument that it is better to have dictators in some countries on the side of the United States than to have those nations ruled by leftists. The article was critical of Jimmy Carter's human rights policies and used both Iran and Nicaragua as examples of how the human rights orientation left the United States backing what she considered the wrong regimes. Kirkpatrick perceived this as an apparent double standard. While the Carter administration was critical of nations violating human rights, Kirkpatrick noted, it was turning over the Panama Canal to a "government very much like those." She also noted that while the administration of Jimmy Carter favored assisting nations that were committed to social change, the "progress often turns out to look a lot like Cubans and Russians." Outspoken about her beliefs, she was not without her critics, who accused her of a similar double standard—applying different standards to support or criticize different regimes.
Kirkpatrick's tenure as ambassador was often stormy. She found herself embroiled in a feud with Alexander M. Haig, Jr., President Reagan's first secretary of state. Most of the feud centered on the conflict in authority between the United Nations ambassador and that of the secretary of state, with Secretary of State Haig contending that the ambassadorship should not carry cabinet rank because it contradicted the idea of a single administrative head for foreign affairs. Several times the two had opposing views on foreign policy issues.
A controversial vote at the United Nations fueled the disputes and ultimately resulted in Haig's resignation. On June 4, 1982, Kirkpatrick vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that called for an immediate cease-fire in the conflict between Great Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). The veto by the United States (the resolution was also vetoed by Great Britain) clearly placed the United States on the side of the British in a war involving two U.S. allies. Minutes later Kirkpatrick announced, "I have been instructed by my government to record the fact that were it possible to change our vote, we should like to change it from a veto, a no, that is, to an abstention."
The switch to a more neutral position created a public embarrassment to President Reagan, who was in Europe (Haig was with the president) attending an economic summit conference. Kirkpatrick complained that the information and direction to abstain arrived too late, casting blame on the administrative apparatus and ultimately the secretary of state. Haig responded by publicly reminding Kirkpatrick that the relationship between the secretary of state and the United Nations ambassador was a superior-subordinate relationship. The airing of the dispute and the exchange of barbs between the two further embarrassed the president. While the conflict between the two was somewhat of a personality clash, the underlying tension was the relationship between the two positions—particularly as the U.N. ambassador sat as a cabinet member in equal status to the secretary of state. By the end of June, to the surprise of some, it was the secretary of state who resigned, not the ambassador to the United Nations.
Kirkpatrick also involved herself in Latin American issues, particularly Central America. She encouraged President Reagan to raise the level of debate and called attention to the various conflicts in the Central American region. Her success in bringing this policy area to the public's attention was evident when Reagan appointed Henry Kissinger, secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations, as chairman of a National Bipartisan Commission on Central America. The president then designated Kirkpatrick as his representative on the commission.
Kirkpatrick announced that she would continue her service as ambassador to the United Nations through President Reagan's first term. She participated in the Republican National Convention in Dallas which re-nominated Reagan for the presidency in 1984. Her foreign policy address at the convention resulted in a noisy demonstration typical of responses to popular speakers at national party conventions. When the president won reelection she attempted to secure a position with greater authority and influence. It was rumored that she sought either a seat on the National Security Council or nomination for secretary of state. Both positions were unavailable, however, as George P. Shultz had succeeded Haig as secretary of state and Robert C. McFarlane was the National Security Advisor. She resigned her position as ambassador to the United Nations in early 1985.
Two months after her resignation, Kirkpatrick announced a formal switch in her party affiliation by registering as a Republican. While the switch did not surprise many, it opened the possibility of her seeking public office in Maryland, her state of residence outside Washington, D.C. She was considered to be a possible candidate for the Republican nomination for the Maryland senate seat vacated by the retirement of Senator Charles M. Mathias, Jr., but opted not to run. While Kirkpatrick was noted for her conservative views on foreign policy, she maintained a more liberal position on domestic issues. She was considered "pro-union" and favored policies supporting some liberal issues.
Kirkpatrick served the longest tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 20 years—and only three others holding that position served longer terms. She was fluent in Spanish and French and knew some Italian and Portuguese. In addition to being the first woman ambassador to the United Nations, she was the first woman to actively participate in the traditionally male-dominated foreign policy arena. Her influence in policy making during her tenure was substantial. After her resignation she returned to Georgetown University to teach while enjoying considerable popularity as a guest speaker elsewhere and as an occasional columnist. She served as a campaign advisor to Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential campaign.
For additional information see Jeane Kirkpatrick, "Dictatorships and Double Standards," Commentary (November 1979) and The Reagan Phenomenon and Other Searches on Foreign Policy (1983). See also: "With the Evil Empire Dead, the Diplomat Goes Local," by Susan Crabtree in Insight on the News, April 22, 1996, vol. 13, no. 15. For Kirkpatrick's work, see: Dictatorships and Double Standards, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982; Legitimacy and Force New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1988; and The Withering Away of the Totalitarian State and Other Surprises, Washington, District of Columbia: American Enterprise Institute, 1990.