By now the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 has receded from the headlines. But the repercussions from the incident will undoubtedly set the tone for debate over defense and foreign policy issues in the United States for months to come. President Reagan may not succeed in getting the reparations for the victims' families that he demands of the Soviet Union, but he probably will successfully extract reparations from the Congress in the form of votes for the MX and Pershing II missile systems.
Reagan's handling of the airliner tragedy, taken on its own terms, has been masterful. He pleasantly surprised his domestic opponents by refusing to take rash or provocative military action. Instead Reagan used the 269 deaths as an opportunity to gain ideological ground from which to launch more sweeping military initiatives in the future.