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Jeane Kirkpatrick and the Death of the Bush Doctrine

December 11, 2006

If a period of days can be said to mark the end of the era, this past week almost surely heralded the demise of the Bush Doctrine. On Wednesday, the Iraq Study Group dealt a death blow to the Bush foreign policy's three pillars of no safe havens, preemptive war and democracy expansion. But it is the passing on Thursday of the neo-conservative Cold Warrior Jeane Kirkpatrick that perhaps best symbolized the closing of the book on Bush's ill-conceived experiment with militant idealism in foreign affairs.
President Bush would, of course, have found much to like in the career and ideas of Kirkpatrick, a former Reagan national security advisor and U.N. ambassador. Like Reagan himself, she eschewed her former home in the Democratic Party and became a vociferous critic of detente with the Soviet Union. And like Bush, Kirkpatrick was an enthusiastic proponent of extra-constitutional executive power. In a move that would have no doubt earned huzzahs from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales, Kirkpatrick in 1984 helped jump-start the Iran-Contra initiative circumventing American law. In fighting the Sandinistas, she said, "We should make the maximum effort to find the money."
Kirkpatrick also backed President Bush's decision to topple Saddam Hussein and the pursuit of mythical weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (Interestingly, she called the 1981 Israeli preemptive strike on Saddam's Osirak nuclear facility "shocking.") It's no wonder Bush said of her on Friday:

"She influenced the thinking of generations of Americans on the importance of American leadership in advancing the cause of freedom and democracy around the globe...Her insights and teachings will continue to illuminate the path ahead for the United States in the world."

But the fellow traveling ended there. When it came to democracy promotion, Kirkpatrick was both a sharp-elbowed neoconservative and a brutal realist. During the 1982 Falklands War, she advocated support for (or at least neutrality towards) the dictatorial junta in Buenos Aires, lest Argentina spin off into the Soviet orbit. (Mercifully, Reagan Secretary of State Alexander Haig won the battle to stand with the British.)
Tacit support for right-leaning tyrants in the face of democratic or revolutionary threats from the left was a hallmark of Kirkpatrick's philosophy. In her seminal 1979 piece "Dictatorships and Double Standards" in Commentary, Kirkpatrick distinguished between America's authoritarian friends on the right and enemy totalitarian communist regimes on the left. For example, she recommended the U.S. steadfastly back both the Somoza regime in Nicaragua and the Shah of Iran, stating "the Shah and Somoza were not only anti-Communist, they were positively friendly to the U.S."
In that same piece, Kirkpatrick made it clear that she would have none of President Bush's lofty rhetoric about bringing democracy to the broader Middle East a generation later. Stability, not democracy, was at the heart of her own dark foreign policy vision:

"In each of these countries [Iran, Nicaragua, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and Angola], the American effort to impose liberalization and democratization on a government confronted with violent internal opposition not only failed, but actually assisted the coming to power of new regimes in which ordinary people enjoy fewer freedoms and less personal security than under the previous autocracy--regimes, moreover, hostile to American interests and policies."

With Iraq "grave and deteriorating," Lebanon spinning out of control under threats from Hezbollah and the Palestinians led by the irredentist Hamas, the short but unhappy life of the Bush Doctrine has reached an end.
To which Jeane Kirkpatrick would only say, "good riddance."


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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