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White House leadership: Reagan on KAL 007 vs. Obama on MH17

There is a saying that great men make history and history makes great men.

Ronald Reagan was the living example of this when, on September 1, 1983, the Soviet Union, without warning, shot down a civilian Korean airliner flying from New York to Seoul, killing all 269 men, women and children on board.

Reagan was on vacation at his ranch in California.  He cut his vacation short and headed back to Washington the next day.

The shooting down of the Korean airliner marked a turning point for Reagan. Up until that time he and others had hoped to compromise with the USSR, trusting them to do the right thing for themselves and the world.  The incident changed Reagan’s mind.  

He met with his national security advisers to determine what happened.  Initial reports were that  Soviet military aircraft had tracked a Korean civilian airliner which had strayed accidentally into their airspace, then deliberately, callously, destroyed it without warning.  They initially lied, denying they had anything to do with it.  But once their guilt could not be denied, they said their action was justified because the civilian aircraft was a spy plane.

It marked a turning point for Reagan. Up until that time he and others had hoped to compromise with the USSR, trusting them to do the right thing for themselves and the world.  The incident changed Reagan’s mind.  

He concluded the Soviet system was corrupt, malignant, and would ultimately fail.  He knew that compromise with Soviet leaders wasn’t possible, and that we had to negotiate from a position of strength to have any chance of success.

Reagan took pen to paper and wrote his own speech to the American people, explaining what the Soviets had done and why it was so dangerous to us and the world.

“…make no mistake about it, this attack was not just against ourselves or the Republic of Korea. This was the Soviet Union against the world and the moral precepts which guide human relations among people everywhere. It was an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations.

They deny the deed, but in their conflicting and misleading protestations, the Soviets reveal that, yes, shooting down a plane — even one with hundreds of innocent men, women, children, and babies — is a part of their normal procedure if that plane is in what they claim as their airspace.

They owe the world an apology and an offer to join the rest of the world in working out a system to protect against this ever happening again.”

Reagan followed strong words with even stronger actions. He accelerated work on the Star Wars missile defense system. He urged Congress and the American people to continue the Reagan defense buildup. He shored up our European allies and encouraged them to stand up to the Communists. And he understood that the Soviet economy depended on high oil prices, so he set about to bankrupt them.  Six years after the Soviets shot down the Korean airliner, their empire collapsed.

This is Barack Obama’s chance to make history. Will he seize the moment and reverse course? If so, he will restore defense spending.  He will take back all those pink slips he’s just sent to members of the military. He will reinstate the defense missile shield for Poland and the Czech Republic. He will rally our European allies to stand up to Putin.  And he will accelerate American energy independence efforts, so that we and our European allies are no longer subject to Russian energy blackmail.

Now is the time of Obama’s testing. Will history make him a great man? Will he rise up to be a great man who makes history?  Or will he just play out the clock for his last two years in office, hobnobbing with celebrities, playing golf with moguls, and living the good life?  

If so, history will soon move past him, and he will spend the next thirty years as a former president coming in first in polls for the worst president in modern American history.

Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of FoxNews.com's "DefCon 3." She served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She was an aide to Dr. Henry Kissinger at the White House, and in 1984 Ms. McFarland wrote Secretary of Defense Weinberger's groundbreaking  "Principles of War " speech.  She received the Defense Department's highest civilian award for her work in the Reagan administration.  

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