Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, 1926-2006.

It's not every day that I wake up to see obituaries for one of my former professors on the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. A professor of government at Georgetown since 1967, Jeane Kirkpatrick attracted wider notice as President Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations from 1981 to 1985 and as a prolific commentator on international affairs. A longtime Democrat whose hawkish views on foreign policy won her a place in the administration of a Republican president, Dr. Kirkpatrick was an assertive Cold Warrior who took a tough line on U.S.-Soviet relations. A maverick whose independence ruffled feathers in the White House as well as at the UN, Dr. Kirkpatrick was not asked to stick around for President Reagan's second term and returned to academia.

As an undergrad at Georgetown, I took a course with Dr. Kirkpatrick entitled "Culture, Personality and Leadership." Dr. Kirkpatrick's politics were not mine, but I found her to be a cordial and generous teacher. The first half of the semester consisted of Dr. Kirkpatrick giving us her interpretation of Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics, with occasional asides touching on her years in public service. These asides typically proceeded along these or similar lines: "This reminds me of something that happened to me in 1983. One day I received a call at home from the Soviet ambassador. He told me that a friend of his in Moscow was sick and wondered if I could recommend an American specialist to treat him. He didn't say who this friend was, but I knew it was Andropov."

One requirement of the course I took with Dr. Kirkpatrick was that each student write a term paper on the cultural background, personality and leadership style of a particular leader, past or present. (I wrote my paper on Lyndon Baines Johnson.) Students who wished to do so could give an in-class presentation on the subject of their paper, and these presentations took up the entire second half of the semester. Dr. Kirkpatrick would listen attentively to each presentation and respond with some questions or comments. In contrast with her acerbic public reputation, Dr. Kirkpatrick was unfailingly charitable in her comments to students. After a student completed a presentation on Cold War power broker John J. McCloy, Kirkpatrick said, "I've only had one other student write on John McCloy. He's now the editor of The New Republic." For moments like that and for many others, I'm grateful I had the chance to study with Jeane Kirkpatrick. To say the very least, she made things interesting. AMDG.


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