For a successful foreign policy, it is not just essential that a nation have clear objectives, but that it can differentiate between crisis and opportunity and manage both. That ability seems to be absent so far in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, at least regarding its policies toward Latin America. This is particularly obvious when Obama's foreign policy is contrasted with his predecessor Ronald Reagan's. A brief review of the U.S. interventions in Grenada in 1983 and in Honduras in 2009 illustrates the point.
The U.S. actions in Grenada and Honduras are separated by a quarter century and 1,500 miles; they have shared and contrasting characteristics. The United States did not initiate the events that led to the Grenada invasion in 1983, as it did not instigate the removal of the President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009. In the former, a U.S. president utilized a real crisis to liberate a country and to signal to the world that he would fight for freedom elsewhere. In the latter, another administration demonstrated that it cannot differentiate between the friends and the enemies of freedom.
Twenty-six years ago this week, on October 25, 1983, Reagan made the dangerous and at the time loudly criticized decision to invade Grenada. This marked the first contraction of the Soviet empire in more than 50 years, and helped spur the fall of the Berlin Wall six years later and the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War two years after that. Seldom in history has such enormous consequence resulted from an unacknowledged event.
Grenada was the high-water mark of the Soviet empire's expansion. In 1979, during the irresolute presidency of Jimmy Carter, Grenada fell into the hands of Maurice Bishop, a Marxist "revolutionary" who -- supported by Fidel Castro, the Soviet Union, East Germany, Libya, and other enemies of the United States -- imposed a dictatorial regime and turned the country into a base for communist expansion in the Caribbean.
Among other hostile moves, Bishop allowed Cuba to build an airbase large enough to accommodate Mig fighters and other military planes. Moreover, Bishop and his allies transformed Grenada into a base for political subversion of the Caribbean. When rival Marxist revolutionaries assassinated Bishop in 1983, the island descended into fratricidal violence. The lives of 800 foreign medical students, mostly American, were in danger. Against the wishes of some of his advisors, who preferred diplomacy, Reagan decided in 36 hours to invade and to remove the Marxist regime.
The invasion was deeply unpopular in the "international community," which denounced the move in a United Nations vote, 122 to 9. Only some neighboring nations in the Caribbean basin supported the United States. Even Reagan's closest ally, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, bitterly protested. Uniformly, U.S. and European media lambasted the White House. Many in Congress angrily condemned the invasion at first, only to support it later (it could be said they were against it before they were for it) when evidence of communist deceit became overwhelming. For example, U.S. soldiers discovered ammunition caches in boxes labeled "Cuban Economic Office, Grenada," demonstrating the danger the island country posed.