Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared at The American Spectator.
This generation has its KAL 007. The stunning downing of Malaysian flight 17 is strikingly similar to the shock of September 1, 1983, when the Russians downed a Korean passenger airliner, flight 007, which had left New York City for Seoul via Alaska. In both cases, the Russian government vehemently denied any involvement, disparaging anyone who dared to accuse it of prior knowledge.
Both planes were Asian with similar numbers of dead. KAL had 269 passengers, the Malaysian flight nearly 300. They were mostly Asian passengers but also Americans—61 Americans in KAL 007 and a much smaller (still unconfirmed) number in the Malaysian flight. In both cases, questions arise over why the planes were flying where they were flying. Exactly what happened with KAL still isn’t entirely clear; but it seems the computer on the plane’s guidance system was set incorrectly, allowing it to stray into Soviet airspace. Russian fighter planes stalked KAL 007 before blasting it out of the sky.
In 1983, Moscow initially denied the dirty deed, with Yuri Andropov, Vladimir Putin’s former boss at the KGB, insisting on his country’s innocence. The denials were shattered when the Reagan administration produced audio of the two Russian pilots communicating as they excitedly shot the plane. The audio was secured via the National Security Agency’s exceptional electronic surveillance technology.
But a major difference between September 1983 and July 2014 is the initial reaction of the two presidents.
Obama’s initial response to MH17 has been dissected at length, including my own earlier analysis. He even offended diehard liberals like CNN’s Piers Morgan, and prompted his deep admirer, Chris Matthews, to long for Ronald Reagan. It was extremely disappointing, even as he redeemed himself somewhat with a much stronger assessment the following day.
I will not belabor the point here. Rather, I’d like to underscore another presidential response that I know especially well, and that’s worth remembering—notably, Ronald Reagan’s reaction to a similar situation.
President Reagan was informed of the KAL catastrophe by his closest aide, national security adviser Bill Clark. As Clark’s biographer, I discussed this with him many times.
Reagan was at his ranch in the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Santa Barbara when he received the news via telephone from Clark. “I told him Bill Casey [CIA director] just relayed an unsubstantiated report that the Soviets may have shot down an airliner, possibly Korean,” Clark told me. Reagan replied to Clark: “Bill, let’s pray it’s not true.”
They prayed, but it was true. The Soviets never let prayer get in the way of their work.
As Clark recalled, “He [Reagan] said, ‘Bill, round table it,’ which meant bring it to the decision-making process to get the opinions and recommendations of all the principals in the NSC: Shultz, Weinberger, Kirkpatrick, Casey….”
Clark called Reagan twice that evening with preliminary information, first at 7:30 p.m., California time. Clark was in the “Western Situation Room” at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara, only a few miles from Reagan. They were not able to confirm the details until 7:10 a.m. the next morning.
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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom