November 2, 2010
Barbara Boxer and the 'Star Wars' SabotageBy Paul Kengor
Senator Barbara Boxer is locked in a tight race against Republican challenger Carly Fiorina. I've written about Boxer in the past, focusing mainly on her fanaticism on the abortion issue. There has been no one in the Senate -- and I mean no one -- as bad as Boxer on this issue.
Much of that history about Boxer is known, with pro-lifers nationwide begging Californians to stop reelecting a woman who, in October 1999, while tenaciously defending partial-birth abortion, declared that a newborn gets rights only once its parents bring it home.
Much less well-known was Boxer's role in helping to undermine -- via ridicule -- Ronald Reagan's historic Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). To the contrary, Boxer has positioned herself as both pro-defense and a great advocate of missile reductions. Ironically, if Boxer had had her way with SDI, America would have lost its single best bargaining chip in bringing the Soviets to the table, achieving unprecedented missile reductions, and literally ending the Cold War.
But first, let me back up a bit.
On March 23, 1983, President Reagan announced SDI. It was a shot heard round the world, terrifying the Soviets. One person able to observe the Soviet panic was Herb Meyer, a popular contributor at American Thinker. Meyer was special assistant to CIA director Bill Casey and a vital player in the Soviet take-down.
Much of Meyer's time was spent conducting vulnerability assessments of the USSR, daily registering the pulse of the Soviet body. He today attests to how dramatically the Soviets were shaken by SDI: "The intelligence coming in the morning of March 24 -- literally hours after the president's SDI speech -- was different from anything we'd seen before. The Soviet Union's top military officials had understood instantly that President Reagan had found a way to win the Cold War. ... You could see the shift immediately -- immediately. Overnight. Just like that."
Indeed, that was true, as the Soviets later publicly admitted. Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmyrtnykh recalled that the Soviets were "enormously frightened" by Reagan's announcement. Bessmyrtnykh said the initiative was "something very dangerous" that "made us realize we were in a very dangerous spot." He called SDI Mikhail Gorbachev's "number-one preoccupation." Bessmertnykh said flatly that programs like SDI "accelerated the decline of the Soviet Union."
Similarly, Genrikh Trofimenko, one of the top analysts in the Soviet Union, later affirmed that SDI "was the most effective single act to bring [Gorbachev] to his senses -- to the understanding that he could not win. ... [H]e had to cry 'uncle' and to vie for a peaceful interlude."
Thus, on the morning after the SDI speech, the Soviets were in a tailspin. Reagan had hit them with a haymaker. They were desperate, on their knees. What, or who, could help them?
Well, they got their answer just hours after the SDI speech. It was provided by the senior senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, who rode to the rescue to unwittingly hand the Soviets a glistening pearl of propaganda. It took Senator Kennedy not even 24 hours to rebuke Reagan's SDI speech as "misleading Red-scare tactics and reckless Star Wars schemes."
Not only had Kennedy not taken the idea seriously, but he ridiculed it masterfully by piggybacking on the liberal caricature of a cartoonish Ronald Reagan, an addled ex-actor who got all his ideas from movies -- including, they surmised, even SDI.
Of course, Kennedy could cause only so much damage by himself. He needed an echo chamber of fellow liberals to join the choir. That's where Kennedy's friends, from the New York Times and Washington Post to Barbara Boxer and Carl Sagan, joined in.
Immediately, the term "Star Wars" found itself in New York Times headlines typed the same day it was mouthed by Kennedy. Over at the Washington Post, columnist Mary McGrory, who was frequently quoted in the Soviet press, compared Reagan to "Buck Rogers," a popular space-age television hero of the day. She called SDI "lunacy." Worse, McGrory added a most destructive twist, with repercussions she could scarcely imagine: The president, she scoffed, had presented "a Buck Rogers plan to transfer the arms race to outer space."
Other liberals chimed in, including Barbara Boxer. From the floor of the House, Rep. Boxer chuckled that SDI was the president's "astrological dream." The zany ex-actor, mocked Boxer, envisioned flying parking "'garages' in orbit."
Ah, there was Reagan's vision: A bunch of parking garages circling around in outer space. Ooooh, how intimidating! What a laugh!
This line of derision trickled up to leftists in the scientific community, like Carl Sagan. Sagan happily tapped into this buffoonish image to mock Reagan at scientific gatherings. "In the foreground comes a very attractive laser battle station," guffawed Sagan at Reagan's silly machine, to howls of hilarity, "which then makes a noise like bzzzt ... bzzzt ... bzzzt."
Other howling dupes fell in line, particularly from the media class.
Alas, this was much-needed levity for a shell-shocked corner of the world: Moscow. For the Soviets, mercifully, here was a creative way to powerfully attack Reagan's powerful idea with some badly needed humor. Kennedy's phrase, plus the subsequent additional levels of ridicule from the left from Boxer to Sagan, was a big blue-ribbon gift to a Kremlin in dire need of a response to Reagan's shot.
The Soviets, in all their propaganda, from the pages of Pravda to talking points in evening news broadcasts, immediately adopted the term "Star Wars." Most significant, the Soviets slid the term to a more sinister level, as implied by McGrory's assessment. They employed "Star Wars" not merely as a method to make fun of Reagan's fanciful mind, but also to suggest that the president had grim motives. Specifically, while liberal journalists typed "Star Wars" in uppercase to laugh off the idea as pure Hollywood, the Kremlin keyboards struck a lowercase "s" and "w" to try to suggest that SDI was Reagan's new vehicle to launch an actual war in space, a war amid the stars -- to start "star wars," or to make "preparations for 'star wars,'" as the Moscow International Service put it. This was perfect for the Soviets: another tool to portray Reagan as a nuclear warmonger -- or, to borrow from yet another Kennedy ad hominem against Reagan, a man itching for a "winnable nuclear conflict."
For their part, Reagan and his administration knew exactly how the Soviets were using the term, and they pleaded with professional journalists to use its proper name, given what the term falsely implied. In one case, Reagan directly and very politely asked Helen Thomas, during a press conference, to please quit using the term. Thomas refused the president on the spot.
In all, it was quite a display by American liberals, here again offering up themselves as unwitting dupes to help the Soviets in their last-ditch attempts to survive Reagan's all-out assault against their truly evil system.
Herb Meyer recalls catching both responses -- Kremlin and Kennedy, Soviet and liberal -- at the same time, and the eye-opening contradiction between the private and public. In the rarest position to observe both responses, Meyer simultaneously read the Soviet reaction in overnight reports and heard the Kennedy caricature.
"I had Kennedy saying that on my radio," said Meyer, "and on my desk [I had] the report from Moscow showing the Soviet leadership saying, effectively, 'Oh, no, it's over.'"
But was it over? It was over only if Reagan could persevere against the propaganda tandem of unwitting liberal dupes in America and brooding communists in Moscow. Fortunately for us, for arms control, for the world, and for peace, Reagan persevered.
As he did, the Strategic Defense Initiative became a deep thrust to the Soviet underbelly. It was devastating.
Vladimir Lukhim, a high-ranking Soviet official, later maintained that "[i]t's clear that SDI accelerated our catastrophe by at least five years." Genrikh Trofimenko added: "99% of all Russians believe that Reagan won the Cold War because of his insistence on SDI."
Reagan won it without the help of liberals, including "arms control" champions like Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.