President Obama spoke for 38 or so seconds yesterday after learning that a Malaysian Air flight had been shot down over Ukraine. In the process, he said in those 38 seconds that a plane falling from the sky “may be” a tragedy.
Conservatives were quick to point out Ronald Reagan’s response to the Korean Air 007 flight in 1983. The shoot down was September 1, 1983. On September 5th, Reagan addressed the nation calling it “a crime against humanity” among other things. Some perspective is important.
Ronald Reagan addressed the nation on the four days after the event. That is being fair to President Obama. But there is more worth considering.
President Reagan may have spoken four days after the event, but what he did on the day of the event is striking compared to Barack Obama. Reagan was in California on vacation with various private events scheduled.
Ronald and Nancy Reagan had gone out to their ranch on August 26th and had intended to stay at least through September 4th. Instead, when he found out, he cancelled all his events and headed back to the White House on the morning of September 2nd. He suspended all campaign and other activity and instead sat in N.S.C. meetings where he decided to rally the world to ban Aeroflot flights and get reparations for victims. In fact, according to his daily calendar, he arrived at the White House at 5:43pm, was in the Oval Office by 5:46pm, and in the Situation Room at 6pm.
More striking, on the day of the attack, once our intelligence confirmed the Soviets had shot down the plane, U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz held a press conference and revealed a great deal of intelligence and intercepts to show conclusively what happened to the plane. We made sure the world knew as quickly as we knew so that the Soviets could not dare attempt a global propaganda campaign. The South Koreans had claimed the Soviets just forced the plane to land. They kept that up for more than five hours. But once the facts were known, we were forceful, thorough, and damning in exposing what had happened.
Reagan sat in N.S.C. meetings the evening of September 2nd and committed the national will to getting our allies on board a plan that included banning Aeroflot flights and demanding reparations.
While this was all going on, the situation in Lebanon and Israel had destabilized and Reagan was juggling meetings on the KA007 situation and the Middle East situation.
Neither Reagan nor his staff said the downed jetliner “may be” a tragedy, nor did they go out for burgers, fries, or fundraisers. They stayed in the White House, cancelled outside events, examined intelligence, met with allies, consulted with Congress, and then Ronald Reagan addressed the nation on September 5, 1983. When he returned to campaign activity on September 9th, he did it by closed circuit TV instead of traveling for the event. Interestingly enough, he also called for a day of mourning to be scheduled for September 11, 1983.
Reagan led. Barack Obama could learn from the last guy from Illinois to sit in the Oval Office.