Editorial: The tragedy of Russia shooting down an airliner

President Obama’s delayed reaction to a Russian missile shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, a civilian passenger airliner, over Ukraine understandably frustrates many Americans.

What would Reagan do?

History provides an answer. Russian jets shot down Korean Air Flight 007 on Sept. 1, 1983, which was headed to Seoul from New York via the North Pole.

Bill Clark, his national security adviser, gave the news to a vacationing President Reagan, according to Clark’s biographer, Paul Kengor.

“How best to react? Reagan decided to respond primarily with words rather than yet more sanctions or a military response (which was out of the question). He deployed one of his favorites weapon against the Kremlin: the verbal cruise missile. Recall that earlier that year, in March, Reagan had labeled the Soviet Union an ‘Evil Empire,’ a choice name that dramatically affected Moscow,” Kengor wrote in the American Spectator on Saturday.

“So, throughout September 1983, Reagan torched the Soviets in harsh terms, even when delivering speeches on other topics or areas of the world.”

While his words were tough in public, privately Reagan cautioned against over reaction, Kengor wrote.

Reagan did what President Kennedy did in 1962 when the East German government erected the Berlin Wall. Kennedy went to Germany, stood before the wall and said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

But Kennedy did not bring bulldozers to tear down that wall. He and Reagan knew that was up to the Soviets.

President Obama’s options also are limited. Ukraine is a particularly thorny issue, as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pointed out in March.

“The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then,” he wrote.

This is a time for verbal cruise missiles, not the military ones. Let us pray for the families of the downed airliner and also the Ukrainians.

Let us also hope President Obama’s words are worthy of Kennedy and Reagan -- for eventually, that wall fell.

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