"The world has changed. Today, our national security can be threatened in faraway places. It's up to all of us to be aware of the strategic importance of such places and to be able to identify them."
When looking back at the invasion of Grenada — which occurred 30 years ago today — it is important to put it into historical context.
America was less than four years removed from the takeover of the American embassy in Iran that sparked a hostage crisis that lasted more than a year — and contributed to the election of one president and the defeat of another. It was understandable that both politicians and ordinary citizens were antsy about any situation in which Americans might be at risk on foreign soil.
And that is what was perceived to be the case in the Caribbean nation of Grenada in 1983 — at least by the general public. The public was told that American medical students at St. George's University were at risk, and Operation Urgent Fury was launched.
But the students were actually a cover for what those in the Reagan administration really wanted to do.
Let's back up a little here.
The history of just about any nation is too complex to summarize in a single sentence or two, and so it is with Grenada, which was ruled by the United Kingdom until a man named Eric Gairy led it to its independence in 1974. Gairy was Grenada's first prime minister, serving until 1979 when, while Gairy was out of the country, his government was overthrown by opposition leader Maurice Bishop and his New Jewel Movement, a Marxist–Leninist group.
Bishop was prime minister until he, too, was overthrown in a coup in October 1983. He was placed under house arrest but escaped — only to be captured and executed. The army took over and announced a four–day total curfew. Anyone who was seen on the streets would be executed.
It was at this point that the Americans intervened.
As I say, the public was told that medical students were in danger, but it seemed to me, even at the time, that there was a lot more going on than citizens were being told. A Marine barracks in Lebanon was attacked by suicide bombers just a couple of days earlier, and more than 200 Americans were killed.
Reagan had not yet announced his intention to run for a second term in 1984, but my memory is that it was generally assumed by most that he would. History tells us that, when Reagan did seek a second term, the voters resoundingly gave it to him. But, according to Gallup, just under half of respondents (49%) approved his performance in office in October 1983. That was better than most of his approval ratings had been for the previous two years, but it was lower than any incumbent president wants to have when he is on the brink of a campaign for re–election.
Reagan already had a reputation for being a devout anti–Communist, but, in light of what had happened in Lebanon, he needed something to shore up his credentials. In addition to contending that Operation Urgent Fury was intended to rescue the medical students, the administration told the American people it was concerned about Grenada falling under Communist control — especially Cuban control.
That always seemed strange to me, considering that the government that had been overthrown in the coup in Grenada was Marxist–Leninist, that the administration was so concerned about events there, characterizing the group that engineered the coup as radicals — while Bishop was merely labeled a progressive. But the administration insisted the new regime was a danger to regional security and American citizens.
Thus, Operation Urgent Fury.
Apparently, it worked for Reagan. In the next Gallup poll, his approval ratings were in the 50s — and they remained in the 50s (if not the 60s) for the next two years.