Wednesday, August 26, 2009

And another thing ...

It seems that I shall not be able to avoid posting something about the death and life of Senator Edward Kennedy. One thing we must say immediately: this is really the end of the long-ago tarnished Kennedy myth. The next generation and the one after it have shown that they have inherited all the Kennedy failings without any of the abilities, which were concentrated in old Joe (though he tended to misuse them), JFK and RFK. The oldest brother, Joseph, was killed in the war before anybody could find out much about him.

It is easy to get sentimental about the Kennedys as one recalls the good looking brothers who were going to change so many things in politics. And they did. Between them the Kennedys managed to introduce a good deal of poison into American politics, what with old Joe making pro-Nazi noises when ambassador to the UK before the war; the problems with the 1960 election, the money that changed hands and the votes that disappeared; and subsequent shenanigans. Two assassinations, both from the left of the political spectrum, do not alter those facts.

Ted Kennedy was the best looking and the least talented of the three brothers. We are talking about a man who was thrown out of Harvard for cheating. Then again, Jack did not actually write "Profiles in Courage" and the Pulitzer Prize was awarded after old Joe injected some cash into the situation.

The BBC, I understand, has mentioned that Ted Kennedy has never recovered from Chappaquiddick. I can only echo somebody else's comment that neither did Mary Jo Kopechne nor, I assume, her family.

Plenty of other people will rehash that story as well as Kennedy's support for the murderous IRA and his tendency to interfere in British affairs in order to show that support. American blogs will have much on his attempts to fiddle the succession in the Senate, his fervent support for Obamacare as long as it did not affect Congresscritters, i.e. him, and his equally fervent opposition to educational vouchers in Washington DC. He was for the poor as long as the poor did not get too uppity.

So what can I add that is of any interest? As it happens there is something that is known among some but not too many: Kennedy's links with Mikhail Gorbachev that went beyond his much trumpeted visit to the Soviet Union in 1986.

The programme with Dan Rather (yes, him again) referred to Senator Kennedy's somewhat perfunctory mention of the great Andrei Sakharov and, no doubt, to the American politician's statesman-like attempts to create a "real" detente unlike the one pushed by that "cowboy" President Reagan. In fact, Kennedy had no particular standing in international negotiations and, undoubtedly, Gorbachev and his advisers would have realized that.

There was a good deal more to Senator Kennedy's relationship with President Gorbachev as described in this article in the National Review by two people who had gone through the published and unpublished literature, Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov.

What the article tells of is a series of actions on the part of the Senator, which had been co-ordinated with various of Gorbachev's advisers if not with the man himself, such as his attack on President Carter for his tough stance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (It has come to something that one finds oneself supporting Carter but he was in the right there.)
More secrets about Kennedy’s collaboration with Moscow became known after the famous defector Vasiliy Mitrokhin smuggled his invaluable archive of secret KGB documents to the West. In 2002, he publicized some of them in The KGB in Afghanistan working paper, published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In 1980 Kennedy attacked President Carter over the latter’s tough opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As Mitrokhin reveals, the senator had evidently coordinated that with Moscow several weeks before — through Tunney and Egon Bahr, West Germany’s top Social Democrat who often had secret contacts with the KGB.
The really interesting aspect of this curious friendship (between Kennedy and Gorbachev) is related in a report by Vadim Zagladin, then No. 2 in the International Department of the Soviet Communist party, who also met Kennedy during the 1986 visit.
During the talks, which took place […] on the 5th of February [1986], E.Kennedy emphasized the following ideas.

1. The recent meeting [between Gorbachev and President Reagan in Geneva] has changed the climate in the world in many respects. This may be felt strongly in the USA. The change is for the better, the birth of hopes 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 a dialogue with the Russians, while in fact he does nothing or manages 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 is important not to allow Reagan to abuse a good thing for bad purposes.


In his opinion, it is important to keep increasing pressure on the administration from different sides, both from abroad and at home. He would like, during his conversation with Com[rade] Gorbachev to suggest some specific ideas on this issue.

It is unfortunate that we don’t have the full transcript of those talks between Kennedy and Gorbachev. Later documents indicate, however, that at the meeting the senator suggested that the timing for the next Soviet-American summit should be set as soon as possible. This, Kennedy claimed, would enable more pressure to be put on the administration. If Reagan declined to discuss any serious issues at the summit, this fact could be used against him as well “to
the benefit of the supporters of peace and of the establishment of more realistic relations between our countries.” Those are the words Gorbachev used to relay Kennedy’s ideas to Guss Hall, general secretary of the U.S. Communist party.

After talking to Gorbachev on February 6, Kennedy came back to Zagladin who reported:

In the evening of the 6th of February (over a supper) I had a conversation with E. Kennedy.

1) The Senator is under strong impression from his talk with C[omrade] M.S. Gorbachev. ‘‘I liked him very much’’, Kennedy said. ‘‘He is a firm, though flexible, leader, who knows what he wants’’. […]

2) 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’’.

Geneva was a great victor for the Soviet Union in the eyes of the whole world, but not in the eyes of the Americans. The average American sees the situation as follows: ‘‘Reagan has managed to establish contact 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 real success for Reagan and a doubtful one for us. So, I asked 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.’’


Kennedy’s impression is that we are awaiting the USA’s reaction calmly because we suppose that time is working for us. In his opinion, however, this is not quite right. So far Reagan is winning. He seems to be ‘‘thinking over’’ our ideas, but he keeps pursuing his own policy — building up the arms race. He will then respond later, taking some item from the full context of the Soviet offers,
but in such a way that it will be difficult to agree with him. For example, arms control without disarmament, etc.

Meanwhile, Reagan’s popularity is growing.
There is a good deal more on that visit and Senator Kennedy's subsequent dealings with President Gorbachev when President Reagan was succeeded by Bush Senior and the Soviet Union began to show the cracks that subsequently blew it apart.

It is a long article but worth reading in full. What emerges is a picture of an American politician who, for his own gain and for his party's success, is ready to negotiate with the leader of the country's main enemy. Not pretty but in character.


  1. From the BBC "he was never able to fully overcome a scandal in 1969 when he drove a car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick near his home, killing his female passenger."

    No the scandal was leaving her there and his subsequent actions. Accidents do happen. What he did and didn't do afterwards told us everything that we needed to know about his character.

    Why do we write such glowing obituaries when older "statesmen" die? In his case, the truth needs to be told as a warning.

  2. The real character of the Senator was exposed to the world when he walked away from Chappaquiddick as that girl was suffocating in his car; passing the island fire station where an alarm button was provided to summon the volunteer fire department He chose not to stop, but to go on to find his lackeys who would concoct some sort of cover story.
    Would he not have triumphed as a hero had he summoned the help, then led the attempted rescue?

  3. He was likely way too drunk to allow himself to be seen. Coward!

  4. Helen, thanks for the heads-up on this. I did not know anything of the Soviet connection -- very interesting.

  5. The oldest brother, from what I read in the biography of a pilot who fought in WW2, died a hero, flying a plane full of explosives to demolish the U boat pens in France, he was supposed to bail out and the plane was remotely controled for the last bit, the plane unexpectedly detonated over the channel (perhaps his dad was protecting his pals boathouse?)

  6. Thank you, Helen. Though depressing - it does give heart. If we survived this kind of treason, we must be a tougher country than I feared we were. Of course, it is yet another reason to shriek when people complain that the right is always doubting the left's patriotism - now why would that be?

  7. Oh there has been any amount of treason in the United States, Ginny. Just have a look at the Venona papers. But you have survived and will do so again. Not that it will be easy and you do not need to fight. But that goes for all of us.

  8. A follow up here: Ted Kennedy's Soviet Gambit

    To be friendly with Gorbatchev is one thing to pal around (to borrow a phrase) with Andropov is quite somthing else again.

  9. Thanks Mikgen. I am going to put the link up as an update to the story.