On Kennedy, Andropov, and KAL 007

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.

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.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • jpckcmo

    Similar to the tragic misjudgment that George W. Bush displayed when he initiated a war with a country who had not threatened us and killed over 4,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, and then bungled that war so badly that we are still there and probably will be for years to come.

  • plowshare

    Come off it, jpckcmo. The two misjudgments have no similarity to each other, except for the bald fact of both being misjudgments. And the only misjudgment on Bush’s part that can be demonstrated was to resume hostilities after a truce of 10 years under unfavorable circumstances. He committed us to a second military campaign while the Afghan one was still a major one, and he did it without the backing of most other countries, in contrast to his father, who began the first Gulf war only after being assured of UN consent to the operation.

    The casualties of this second Iraq campaign, and the cost of maintaining troops there, have to be weighed against the atrocities the Saddam Hussein regime perpetrated before you can count them as evidence of Bush’s having committed any other misjudgment than the one I’ve named just now.

  • jpckcmo

    I work with Iraqi refugees, and they all, Shiite and Sunni, speak nostalgically of the good old days when Saddam was in charge. Their conversation frequently starts with “Before 2003 . . . .” We did them no favors by invading their country. The two misjudgments can certainly can and should be compared.

  • plowshare

    I forgot all about this exchange for two weeks, starting before seeing jpckmo’s “rebuttal”, which is a shame, because he’s probably decided I’m not going to answer him and won’t be checking here any more.

    I would like to know just where these refugees are that he is talking about, and why they aren’t in Iraq. I doubt that many Iraqis are nostalgic about Saddam. I’d be very surprised if more than 5% of the Kurds and 10% of the Shiites in Iraq think they were better off under Saddam.

    Anyway, my original point is that jpckmo seized on a flimsy excuse to attack Bush, by taking a misjudgment by Kennedy about the good will of the leader of the Soviet Union (and about his own Presidents, Carter and Reagan) and simply asserting that it is “similar” in an unspecified way to what is, on the face of it, a totally dissimilar misjudgment by Bush.