Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and intellectual provocateur who championed the muscular foreign policy of neoconservatism that helped lay the ideological groundwork for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died June 21 at 68.
The cause was cancer of the small intestine, said his son, Daniel Krauthammer. He declined to provide further information.
“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking,” he wrote in a June 8 farewell note. “I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny. I leave this life with no regrets.”
A star of page and screen, Dr. Krauthammer (pronounced KRAUT-hammer) was one of the highest-profile commentators of his generation. In addition to his syndicated weekly column in The Post, which garnered him a Pulitzer in 1987, he was a marquee essayist for magazines across the political spectrum, including Time, the New Republic, the Weekly Standard and the National Interest foreign policy journal. He also was a near-ubiquitous presence on cable news, particularly Fox.
By any measure, Dr. Krauthammer cut a singular profile in Washington’s journalistic and policymaking circles. He graduated in 1975 from Harvard Medical School — on time, despite a diving accident that left him a paraplegic — and practiced psychiatry before a restless curiosity led him to switch paths. Instead of diagnosing patients, he would analyze the body politic.
Jacob Heilbrunn, author of “They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons” and editor of the National Interest, said in an interview that Dr. Krauthammer “crystallized conservative thought and exerted influence by setting the terms of public debate at key moments in the nation’s political life.”
Known for acerbic, unsparing prose and hawkishness on U.S. and Israeli security matters, Dr. Krauthammer long directed his moral indignation at the “liberal monopoly” on the news cycle. He was festooned with honors by right-leaning groups and sought after by Republican policymakers. Vice President Richard B. Cheney once praised him for his “superior intellect.”
To the left, Dr. Krauthammer was a bogeyman, most notably on the matter of President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” and the ultimately catastrophic efforts to democratize the Middle East.
On Israeli-Palestinian relations, he acknowledged suffering on both sides but firmly defended the Jewish state in what he saw as its existential battle for survival. “Israel’s crime is not its policies but its insistence on living,” he wrote in a 2008 Post column. He declared international law worthless and quipped that Islamist militants are seldom “impressed by U.N. resolutions.”
His prolific work extended far beyond politics and foreign affairs to touch on complex social problems that he had first encountered in his medical practice. He wrote poignantly — and at times caustically — about societal treatment of the mentally ill. Many patients, released from psychiatric facilities at the urging of civil libertarians, were set adrift on the “very mean streets” because of a fantasy of “a Rockwellian community ready to welcome its eccentrics,” he wrote in Time in 1985.
“In the name of a liberty that illness does not allow them to enjoy,” he concluded, “we have condemned the homeless mentally ill to die with their rights on.”
After mass shootings, Dr. Krauthammer argued, Democratic leaders made “totally sincere, totally knee-jerk and totally pointless” calls for stricter gun-safety laws instead of addressing what he regarded as the more relevant underlying issue: the failure of families and the state to ensure effective psychiatric intervention for those who need it.
“In the liberal remake of ‘Casablanca,’ ” he wrote in The Post in 2013 after the Washington Navy Yard killings, “the police captain comes upon the scene of the shooting and orders his men to ‘round up the usual weapons.’ ”
The essayist and critic John Gross, writing in the New York Times, once called Dr. Krauthammer a skilled “controversialist” and “master of the crisp and compact formulation” whose greatest strength was his “ability to seize on the giveaway quotation or the exquisitely revealing chink in his opponent’s armor.”
Dr. Krauthammer said his politics were shaped by growing up in the post-Holocaust years with Jewish parents who had escaped Nazi Europe. He grew up attuned to the “tragic element in history,” he once told a C-Span interviewer. “It tempers your optimism and your idealism. And it gives you a vision of the world which I think is more restrained, conservative, if you like. You don’t expect that much out of human nature. And you are prepared for the worst.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post – Adam Bernstein