This was a quite incredible perspective by Kennedy. I literally cannot name a single other American politician, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, who saw the Stalinist Andropov as anything other than cold, calculating, brooding, sinister. Yuri Andropov was no Mikhail Gorbachev. He was a throwback to the Stalin years.
And yet, because of that misplaced faith and trust in Andropov, Senator Kennedy believed that he could help arrange a P.R. tour for the Soviet dictator in the United States in August-September 1983, where Andropov could “influence Americans” with his (alleged) charm and generally produce a betterment in U.S.-Soviet relations, arms control, peace, and “define the safety of the world.” To quote the steps outlined in the KGB memo: “Kennedy believes that in order to influence Americans it would be important to organize in August-September of this year, televised interviews with Y. V. Andropov in the USA.”
On its face, this was obviously an extraordinarily misplaced judgment, quickly apparent to anyone who lived through the 1980s and remembers Yuri Andropov. But the full degree to which this is so brings me to the other historical irony that passed unnoticed this week:
It was 26 years ago, early September 1983, when Soviet fighter pilots shot out of the sky a peaceful South Korean passenger airliner dubbed KAL 007, which had veered off-course into Soviet airspace. The attack killed 269 innocents, including 61 Americans. Andropov and his cruel regime scandalously denied and tried to cover up the dirty deed, but Ronald Reagan, his National Security Adviser Bill Clark, and his administration blew the whistle on Andropov at the United Nations. The good guys forced the bad guys to admit the crime, to concede responsibility for what Reagan labeled a “barbarous act” born of a society that “wantonly disregards” the most basic human rights.
Now, we don’t know what, precisely, caused the cancellation of the “August-September” 1983 Andropov tour of America proposed by Senator Kennedy in the May 1983 KGB memo. We don’t know because none of the liberal reporters who dominate the American media ever asked Kennedy these basic follow-up questions, even as the information in this KGB memo was first reported way back in a February 2, 1992 article in the London Times (titled, “Teddy, the KGB and the top secret file”), let alone my book, published by HarperCollins in 2006.
I suspect, however, that the proposed idea of a Yuri Andropov good-will tour to America in August-September 1983 literally went up-in-smoke over Soviet territory on September 1, 1983—blown up with KAL 007.
Thus, what happened with KAL 007 was not only symbolic of Soviet brutality and of Andropov’s disregard for human life, but of the late Senator Kennedy’s tragic misjudgment. And I think that Democrats from Kennedy’s own party will agree with me that it was such consistently poor judgment that plagued the late senator throughout his life and political career. It was a quality that, I believe, prevented Edward Kennedy from ever rising to the office of his late presidential brother.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."