September 23, 2010
Jimmy Carter vs. Ted Kennedy: Forget Health Care -- What about the Kremlin?By Paul Kengor
Jimmy Carter's recent criticism of Ted Kennedy struck me with personal irony. Just as Carter's book hit the media, my latest book, which features Carter on the cover kissing Leonid Brezhnev, was likewise just hitting the media. The irony is that Carter and Kennedy are both detailed at length in my book as arguably the book's two biggest dupes. Moreover, my book, like Carter's, considers whether Kennedy sought to undermine the sitting Democratic president. The big difference is that my findings are potentially much worse, involving an evil regime -- but they will not get anywhere near the same press attention as Carter's claims.
First, consider Carter's allegation:
Talking about his book to CBS's Leslie Stahl, Carter blasted Ted Kennedy, whom he blamed for his administration's inability to pass a national "health plan." Carter described Kennedy as "irresponsible and abusive," and told Stahl, "The fact is that we would have had comprehensive health care now, had it not been for Ted Kennedy's deliberately blocking the legislation that I proposed in 1978 or '79. ... It was his fault. Ted Kennedy killed the bill."
When Stahl asked Carter if he felt Kennedy did this "just to spite you," Carter agreed: "That's the implication. He did not want to see me have a major success in that realm of American life."
Carter pointed to political motivations by Kennedy: "I felt like he went after me. I was the incumbent president. I didn't go after him. But he decided that he was going to replace me as a Democratic president."
And it wasn't the only realm where Kennedy opposed Carter, which gets to the material I wrote about.
According to Vasiliy Mitrokhin, a KGB official and senior Soviet archivist who defected in 1992, bringing with him a huge cache of documents, Kennedy went after Carter on more than health care. Kennedy countered Carter on vital matters of national security.
Specifically, on March 5, 1980, Kennedy reached out to Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev, via a message personally delivered in Moscow by Kennedy's close friend and confidante, John Tunney, the former Democratic senator from California. According to Mitrokhin, Tunney was there "to relay [Kennedy's] ideas on ways to lessen international tension to the Soviet leadership."
What tensions? That's the shocker. In Mitrokhin's account, Kennedy, amazingly, blamed the escalation in Cold War tensions not on the Soviets, but on Jimmy Carter. Mind you, this was mere weeks after the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, their first direct military intervention outside the Warsaw Pact since World War II.
"[T]he Carter administration was trying to distort the peace-loving ideas behind Brezhnev's proposals," argued Kennedy, in Mitrokhin's words, with "the atmosphere of tension and hostility ... being fuelled by Carter." The Carter White House was "feeding public opinion with nonsense about 'the Soviet military threat' and Soviet ambitions for military expansion in the Persian Gulf."
Yes, the Massachusetts senator somehow had concluded that Jimmy Carter was guilty of belligerence and that Leonid Brezhnev was committed to peace, including a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan -- which the Red Army had just invaded and would bomb mercilessly for a decade. Ted Kennedy ensured that the Soviets heard his unique conclusion, delivered by a personal liaison.
The KGB itself concluded that some of Kennedy's "proposals are acceptable to us ... as they contradict the line taken by Carter and other politicians."
This was Senator Kennedy running his own foreign policy. More than that, bear in mind that this was precisely the time that Kennedy was challenging Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination.
What's so especially remarkable about this incident is that it shows Kennedy as possessing even greater gullibility on the Soviets than Carter. Jimmy Carter, of course, was far and away the weakest, most naïve of our presidents when it came to the Cold War. He trusted the communists to an unhealthy degree. This was evident literally the first week of his presidency, when Carter stated, "My own hope as president is to explore every possible way to work with the Soviet Union and with other potential enemies of ours, who at this point seem to be our friends." Two months later, at a March 24 news conference, when asked how he might help political dissidents suffering in the USSR, Carter magnanimously reassured his Soviet friends: "I have tried to make sure that the world knows that we are not singling out the Soviet Union for abuse or criticism."
By Carter's thinking, so much of America's previous misunderstanding of the USSR was based on a poisonous anti-communism, an "inordinate fear of Communism," from which he had hoped to unshackle the nation. Pushing the idea of peaceful coexistence that the Soviets so effectively exploited, Carter promised the world, "We are not trying to bring the Soviets to their knees."
That was clear. In fact, in July 1978, during Carter's visit to Germany, a West Berlin woman asked him, "For how long, Mr. President, do you think we've got to live with the Wall?" A helpless Carter responded, "I don't know. I hope that it will be removed in the future, but I have no idea when it might be. I'm sorry I can't give you a better answer, but that's the truth." Onlookers literally laughed at the American president.
The entire world got a chance to see Carter's approach to the Soviets on June 18, 1979. During the signing of the SALT II Treaty in Vienna, President Carter leaned over toward Brezhnev and planted a kiss on his cheek. That visual is a most instructive metaphor. It truly says it all.
Jimmy Carter had been terribly soft on the Soviets. Only the most peculiar observer would think otherwise.
Behold, one such observer was Senator Ted Kennedy. And Kennedy wasn't shy about letting the Soviets know his feelings -- right smack in the middle of the Democratic presidential primaries.
Alas, isn't it interesting that the media now, today, is giving attention to a Carter-Kennedy spat over government health care but still doesn't seem to care about whether Carter was stiffed by Kennedy over the Soviet Union? Why is that?
In fact, as I wrote in this space at the time of Senator Kennedy's death, for two decades now (since February 1992), a KGB document has been available reporting on how Kennedy pulled a similar stunt against Ronald Reagan. This time, Kennedy's Soviet counterpart was the odious Yuri Andropov, with whom, the KGB document stated, Kennedy was "very impressed." I've published that document in full, in both Russian and English, in the appendix of Dupes. I honestly don't expect a single inquiry from our mainstream media.
Think about it: Kennedy may have undercut Carter on health care, and the story is an overnight media sensation. On the other hand, Kennedy may have undercut Carter on the Soviets, and the media is dead silent. Don't liberal journalists care? Kennedy did this to his own -- and their own -- political flesh and blood.
Or is the media afraid to delve into the Kennedy-Soviet angle, fearful of the implications for the Senate's "Last Lion"? After all, health care is one thing, but foreign policy and national security -- and reaching out to the Soviet leadership at the height of the Cold War and during an election campaign -- is something else entirely.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.