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Question of the Day
History has long since vindicated Ronald Reagan’s Cold War policy. Even Sen. Ted Kennedy, whom no one would accuse of harboring pro-Reagan sympathies, had to admit that Mr. Reagan “will be honored as the president who won the Cold War.” But opinions have not always been so united.
In his new book, “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism,” Grove City College professor Paul Kengor sheds light on a letter written by KGB head Viktor Chebrikov to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. The letter is dated May 14, 1983, right as the debate was heating up over Mr. Reagan’s proposed deployment of intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Western Europe to counter the Soviets’ medium-range rockets in Eastern Europe.
Most Democrats and much of the left were universally opposed to Mr. Reagan’s plan, which they argued would lead to nuclear war. Heading the list of critics was Mr. Kennedy, who had, according to the Soviet letter, sent former Sen. John V. Tunney to meet with Kremlin leaders. Chebrikov writes that Mr. Kennedy “charged Tunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts, to… Andropov.”
According to the letter, Mr. Kennedy was concerned with “Reagan’s belligerence,” which he felt was in part the result of the president’s popularity. “The only real threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations,” wrote Chebrikov, relaying Mr. Tunney’s message. “These issues, according to [Mr. Kennedy], will without a doubt become the most important of the  election campaign.”
The letter goes on to say how Mr. Kennedy felt that the Soviets’ peaceful intentions were being “quoted out of context, silenced or groundlessly and whimsically discounted.” Conversely, Mr. Reagan “has the capabilities to counter any propaganda.” In other words, if the letter is to be believed, Mr. Kennedy felt his own president was the real aggressor.
Mr. Kennedy had two proposals for Andropov, according to Chebrikov. First, he asked for a meeting later that summer in order “to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA.” Second, that “Kennedy believes that in order to influence Americans it would be important to organize … televised interviews with [Andropov] in the USA.”
If Chebrikov’s account of events is accurate, it’s clear Mr. Kennedy was actively engaging the Russians to influence the 1984 election. He also seems to have genuinely believed that Mr. Reagan’s policies were endangering U.S.-Soviet relations and that the best solution was to get Mr. Reagan out of office. The letter closes with Chebrikov saying that “Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” possibly suggesting Mr. Kennedy had other, more selfish motives.
As Mr. Kengor concludes, “if the memo is in fact an accurate account of what transpired, it constitutes a remarkable example of the lengths to which some on the political left, including a sitting U.S. senator, were willing to go to stop Ronald Reagan.”
We agree. Even in a jaded world, it is breathtaking to discover a U.S. senator — brother of a former president — actively and secretly collaborating with Soviet leaders in an attempt to undermine the president of the United States’ nuclear defense policy during the height of the cold war.
By James A. Lyons Jr.
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