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On Kennedy, Andropov, and KAL 007

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Over the last week-and-a-half I’ve gotten an overwhelming number of inquiries relating to the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. Why me? Because of my report back in 2006 of Kennedy’s confidential offer to Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov. That offer was evident in a fascinating May 14, 1983 memo written by KGB head Victor Chebrikov to Andropov, simply titled, “Regarding Senator Kennedy’s request to the General Secretary of the Communist Party Y. V. Andropov.” I published the document in its entirety in my book, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism.

When Senator Kennedy passed away, I got requests immediately, via phone calls and emails. I declined them because I didn’t want to seem uncharitable or speak ill of the man upon his death, given that the KGB memo is not exactly flattering.

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Within only hours of that personal decision, my position became increasingly untenable as Rush Limbaugh addressed the subject at great length. Ultimately, once the funeral had passed, I published a piece in American Thinker laying out the specifics, and even posting the document (in Russian and English). I’ve now been doing roughly five radio interviews per day on the subject, not to mention responding to numerous other forms of inquiry.

I will not revisit the entire saga here, as readers can look elsewhere. But there is one telling thing about the whole incident that has been missed, and which showed up with intriguing historical irony just this week. Let me explain:

The most striking aspect of the KGB memo, not to mention Senator Kennedy’s many public statements and writings at the time—see, to cite just two examples, his March 24, 1983 Senate floor speech and March 1984 piece for Rolling Stone—was the late senator’s lack of faith and trust in President Ronald Reagan in contrast to his amazing faith and trust in Premier Yuri Andropov. This was evident in the memo, where the KGB head underscored that Kennedy was “very impressed” with Andropov—as opposed to Reagan, whose “militaristic politics” and “belligerence,” Kennedy judged, were the culprits for the increasingly tense Cold War.

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.

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