Whatever you might think of the Senator's personal history, he is being celebrated as a legislator and a liberal icon. But he was more than that. He was such a fervent partisan, liberal Democrat that he would do just about anything to help his side whether it was demagoguing Robert Bork's record to cozying up to the Soviets if he thought it would help the Democrats electorally.
Robinson summarizes the damning story of the 1983 approach that Senator Kennedy made, through his friend, Senator John Tunney, to Yuri Andropov, the general secretary of the Communist Party. This is an amazing story.
Kennedy's message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo. Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. "The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations," the memorandum stated. "These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign."John O'Sullivan wrote more about this move by Senator Kennedy in O'Sullivan's excellent book, The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister.
Kennedy made Andropov a couple of specific offers.
First he offered to visit Moscow. "The main purpose of the meeting, according to the senator, would be 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." Kennedy would help the Soviets deal with Reagan by telling them how to brush up their propaganda.
Then he offered to make it possible for Andropov to sit down for a few interviews on American television. "A direct appeal ... to the American people will, without a doubt, attract a great deal of attention and interest in the country. ... If the proposal is recognized as worthy, then Kennedy and his friends will bring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largest television companies in the USA contact Y.V. Andropov for an invitation to Moscow for the interviews. ... The senator underlined the importance that this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side."
Kennedy would make certain the networks gave Andropov air time--and that they rigged the arrangement to look like honest journalism.
Kennedy's motives? "Like other rational people," the memorandum explained, "[Kennedy] is very troubled by the current state of Soviet-American relations." But that high-minded concern represented only one of Kennedy's motives.
"Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988," the memorandum continued. "Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president."
Kennedy proved eager to deal with Andropov--the leader of the Soviet Union, a former director of the KGB and a principal mover in both the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the suppression of the 1968 Prague Spring--at least in part to advance his own political prospects.
According to Chebrikov, Kennedy thought that a meeting with Andropov "would equip him with the Soviet positions on arms control and add conviction to his own appearances on the subject in the U.S."Try to wrap your mind around this story. A sitting senator approaching the Soviets behind the back of the sitting president to help the Soviets in their negotiations with the United States.
As Robinson points out, this story has never been refuted. O'Sullivan adds that Senator Tunney, when asked about the story dismissed Chebrikov's letter as
"Someone trying to sound bigger than they were. It was in their self-interest to be seen with me and with Kennedy."O'Sullivan adds,
Former senators are important people, of course, but Tunney's explanation is nonsense on stilts. Chebrikov was the chairman of the KGB and, as such, the second most powerful man in the Soviet Union. He had no reason to inflate his importance in dealing with Andropov, who was one of his closest associates, and every reason to express himself as candidly as Andropov had done in writing to Gromyko and Ustinov....The only mystery is why Andropov turned down Kennedy's offer. The answer seems to be that, when it came to left-wing Western politicians hoping to assist the Kremlin's foreign policy, the Soviets were suffering from an embarrassment of riches.This wasn't the only time that Kennedy reached out to the Soviet Union to sabotage President Reagan. O'Sullivan quotes from a report by Vadim Zagladin, the deputy head of the International Department, to Gorbachev and the Politburo on his talks with Senator Kennedy about the Geneva Summit, the first meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev.
E. Kennedy emphasized the following ideas. 1. The recent meeting has changed the climate of the world in many respects....The change is for the better, the birth ofhopes for a better future. However, this process also has a negative side. President Reagan actively uses the new climate. And the problem is not only that his popularity is growing after Geneva. In fact Geneva allowed Reagan to slow down the process of movement to any positive results in negotiations with the USSR. He says that the situation has already changed, that he has instituted dialogue with the Russians, while in fact he does nothing or manges things in the old direction, i.e., that of increasing military preparations. From the Democrats' point of view, all of this is very bad. This does not mean they are against Geneva or the spirit of Geneva -- they are for it. But they think it important not to allow Reagan to abuse a good thing for bad purposes... In his [Kennedy's] opinion, it is important to keep increasing pressure on the administration from different sides, both abroad and at home.Later on Kennedy met with Gorbachev and then again with Zagladin who reported on Kennedy's response.
At the same time, in E. Kennedy's opinion, "my Soviet friends have not yet thoroughly understood the psychology of the Americans and the essence of Reagan's tactics."...The average American sees the situation as follows: "Reagan has managed to establish contacts with the Russians, gaining much from them, but giving nothing. He is a great leader!"...The senator's speculations seemed to suggest that Geneva was a great success for Reagan and a doubtful one for us. SO I aasked him a direct question: "Well, do you think it was a mistake to go to Geneva?" The senator replied without hesitation: "No, it was not, but you should keep pressing, be firmer."Amazing. Now he's telling the Soviets to be firmer with the United States. And giving them some ideas on how to outmaneuver President Reagan in the future.
We should choose two or three points which could be achieved and constantly put pressure on Reagan in order to restrict his freedom of maneuver. These points might be the following: confirmation of the ABM treaty; restriction of the nuclear test limits and a cut in their number; missiles in Europe" (though Reagan, Kennedy said, will demand the elimination of missiles from Asia.)Of course, we only have the Soviet summary of these conversations with Senators Kennedy and Tunney. Sadly, the American media ignored these reports of Kennedy's outreach to the Soviets on how to outmaneuver the American president. However, there is no reason for a Soviet official to lie in a classified report back to the Soviet premier about what an American senator is saying.
Summarizing, Kennedy said, "The present complacency of the Americans, their almost Christmas mood, must be broken. You should put more pressure, and firmer pressure, on Reagan.
Beyond the utter perfidy of Senator Kennedy in seeking to undermine the United States in delicate arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, there is also the clear misunderstanding that Kennedy had about the state of the Cold War at this point. He is still seeing the Soviet as having a remarkably strong economy equal to that of the United States. Kennedy was hoping that Gorbachev would stand firm against SDI and force Reagan to drop the initiative. He hopes that that pressure will break the Americans' "almost Christmas mood." Yes. He can't stand the support that Americans were giving Reagan and is seeking any effort to tarnish Reagan's foreign policy plans. And so he turns to the Soviets to do that dirty job for the Democrats.
There is something very low and slimy about these exchanges that Kennedy had with the Soviets.The opening of the Soviet archives has given historians a glimpse into several sacred cows of the American left from the Soviets' ties to Americans such as Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs. And now we can see how one American senator was doing his own bit to undermine the foreign policy of an American president with whom he disagreed. As Peter Robinson writes,
When President Reagan chose to confront the Soviet Union, calling it the evil empire that it was, Sen. Edward Kennedy chose to offer aid and comfort to General Secretary Andropov. On the Cold War, the greatest issue of his lifetime, Kennedy got it wrong.