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Ted Kennedy’s Soviet Gambit

Traitor: Function: noun. Etymology: Middle English traytour, from Anglo-French traitre, from Latin traditor, from tradere to hand over, deliver, betray, from trans-, tra- trans- + dare to give.

1 : one who betrays another’s trust or is false to an obligation or duty
2 : one who commits treason

Picking his way through the Soviet archives that Boris Yeltsin hadjust thrown open, in 1991 Tim Sebastian, a reporter for the London Times,came across an arresting memorandum. Composed in 1983 by VictorChebrikov, the top man at the KGB, the memorandum was addressed to YuriAndropov, the top man in the entire USSR. The subject: Sen. EdwardKennedy.

“On 9-10 May of this year,” the May 14 memorandumexplained, “Sen. Edward Kennedy’s close friend and trusted confidant[John] Tunney was in Moscow.” (Tunney was Kennedy’s law school roommateand a former Democratic senator from California.) “The senator chargedTunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts,to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Y. Andropov.”

Kennedy’s message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo.Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. Inreturn, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand inchallenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. “The only realpotential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace andSoviet-American relations,” the memorandum stated. “These issues,according to the senator, will without a doubt become the mostimportant of the election campaign.”

Kennedy made Andropov a couple of specific offers.

Firsthe offered to visit Moscow. “The main purpose of the meeting, accordingto the senator, would be to arm Soviet officials with explanationsregarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be betterprepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA.” Kennedywould help the Soviets deal with Reagan by telling them how to brush uptheir propaganda.

Then he offered to make it possible forAndropov to sit down for a few interviews on American television. “Adirect appeal … to the American people will, without a doubt, attracta great deal of attention and interest in the country. … If theproposal is recognized as worthy, then Kennedy and his friends willbring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largesttelevision companies in the USA contact Y.V. Andropov for an invitationto Moscow for the interviews. … The senator underlined the importancethat this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side.”

Kennedy would make certain the networks gave Andropov air time–andthat they rigged the arrangement to look like honest journalism.

Kennedy’smotives? “Like other rational people,” the memorandum explained,”[Kennedy] is very troubled by the current state of Soviet-Americanrelations.” But that high-minded concern represented only one ofKennedy’s motives.

“Tunney remarked that the senator wants torun for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does notdiscount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party mayofficially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans andelect their candidate president.”

Kennedy proved eager to dealwith Andropov–the leader of the Soviet Union, a former director of theKGB and a principal mover in both the crushing of the 1956 HungarianRevolution and the suppression of the 1968 Prague Spring–at least inpart to advance his own political prospects.

In 1992, Tim Sebastian published a story about the memorandum in the London Times. Here in the U.S., Sebastian’s story received no attention. In his 2006 book, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, historian Paul Kengor reprinted the memorandum in full. “The media,” Kengor says, “ignored the revelation.”

“Thedocument,” Kengor continues, “has stood the test of time. I scrutinizedit more carefully than anything I’ve ever dealt with as a scholar. Ishowed the document to numerous authorities who deal with Sovietarchival material. No one has debunked the memorandum or shown it to bea forgery. Kennedy’s office did not deny it.”

Why bring all thisup now? No evidence exists that Andropov ever acted on thememorandum–within eight months, the Soviet leader would be dead–andnow that Kennedy himself has died even many of the former senator’sopponents find themselves grieving. Yet precisely because Kennedyrepresented such a commanding figure–perhaps the most compellingliberal of our day–we need to consider his record in full.

Doing so, it turns out, requires pondering a document in the archives of the politburo.

WhenPresident Reagan chose to confront the Soviet Union, calling it theevil empire that it was, Sen. Edward Kennedy chose to offer aid andcomfort to General Secretary Andropov. On the Cold War, the greatestissue of his lifetime, Kennedy got it wrong.

Peter Robinson, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a former White House speechwriter, writes a weekly column for Forbes.

2009-08-29

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