“She served her country well”

Janine Brookner, an accomplished former CIA agent who overcame brutally unfair treatment at the agency, has unfortunately passed away. While many tributes to this wonderful person have already appeared (here), I would be remiss not to add a revealing anecdote from decades ago that I’ve kept confidential until now.

I met Janine Brookner, then a single mother, a couple of times in the mid-1980s. Her son Steve and I lived next door during our freshman year at Dartmouth. At the time, she was assigned to the United States Mission to the United Nations where she monitored Soviet Bloc officials. Our UN Ambassador then was Jeane Kirkpatrick.

In 1985, Amb. Kirkpatrick hired me for a 6-month internship. My job was to help her compile and edit four years of speeches, Congressional testimony and other official documents. We worked together almost daily for months and gradually, as I earned her trust, she would open up about some officials she worked with during her 4+ years in the Reagan Administration. Though she never shared anything confidential, she didn’t pull punches in giving her views.

I still vividly recall mentioning that I’d returned from New York to see Steve and had also bumped into Ms. Brookner. This was about 5 years before the CIA’s public humiliation of her. At the mention of the name “Janine Brookner,” Amb. Kirkpatrick put down her pen and became literally motionless. After a few moments she looked at me and said, “Janine Brookner has served her country well.”

She paused and then repeated that same statement.

The reason that memory has stuck with me so long is that I’d heard Amb. Kirkpatrick speak about many officials. Typically she’d comment about their intelligence (or lack thereof), savvy, or leadership. But I never heard her describe anyone else the way she described Janine Brookner, not even remotely.

Janine Brookner was a remarkable woman for her career and for how she triumphed over an awful level of misogyny. Rest In Peace, Ms. Brookner.

Recalling “Dictatorships & Double Standards”

Jeane KirkpatrickSorry for the long drought in blogs.  Chalk it up to global warming.

Former Slate and New Republic editor Michael Kinsley has this delightful review of Lawrence Wright’s new book on Scientology in Sunday’s New York Times.  Describing Scientology, Kinsley writes:

The closest institutional parallel would be the Communist Party in its heyday [including] the determination to control its members’ lives completely (the key difference, you will recall, between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, according to the onetime American ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick)….

As the Scientologists have a legal budget on par with the GDP of a developing country, they can respond to Kinsley and The Times.  But Kinsley’s remark about Kirkpatrick deserves a comment since the sway of history during the past few decades puts her once-derided thesis in an increasingly vindicated light.

First a disclosure: During much of 1985, I worked with Amb. Kirkpatrick, helping her prepare her UN speeches and papers into a book, Legitimacy & Force.

Kirkpatrick’s distinction about authoritarian and communist dictatorships came to public attention in a November 1979 Commentary article, “Dictatorships & Double Standards.”  It was a critique of American policies that sought to undercut authoritarian pro-Western regimes (Somoza, the Shah, Lon Nol) while minimizing the destruction of human freedom in totalitarian regimes and movements (Soviet satellites and funded insurgencies).

Her article was often called a criticism of a “human rights” foreign policy – ironic because the phrase “human rights” never appears in the text.

What she did posit was that America’s foreign policy would be better focused on undercutting through trade, food aid, and yes, even foreign aid those governments that were trying to shut down all aspects of unsanctioned behavior (read: Jaruzelski’s Poland, other Soviet satellites).

With 30 years of hindsight, the insight of Amb. Kirkpatrick’s distinction has become blindingly obvious. Precisely as she and like-minded Reagan Administration colleagues (especially CIA director William Casey) predicted, once the aura of “invincibility” came off the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s due in no small part to aggressive American efforts, its empire crumbled with stunning swiftness.  In turn, once the Kremlin was no longer able to maintain an empire, those “wars of liberation” in El Salvador, Colombia, and Africa suddenly came to ignominious (for the rebels) conclusions.

A blog is not nearly long enough for a full discussion of issues that could easily consume tomes.  But suffice it to say from this member of a group occasionally labeled “the Kirkpatrick Mafia,” it is pleasing beyond belief to know that Amb. Kirkpatrick was able to see her views vindicated prior to her passing in 2006.

Incidentally, for the trivia minded, Prof. Kirkpatrick also holds the distinction of being the first Cabinet-level female appointee whose duties focused on international policy.