Thursday, June 17, 2004

Ja: Martin Henry remembers Grenada and Reagan

He calls the piece "Reagan's towering greatness." Who am I to disagree with that?

THAT OCTOBER morning in 1983, our scheduled lecturer for the Diploma in Education suspended regular class for a discussion of the events unfolding in Grenada. The Maurice Bishop government, which itself had come to power by coup d'etat, had been overthrown by some of its own Marxist hardliners.

Details were fuzzy for days but a deep and tense interest ran through the English-speaking Caribbean. Jamaica itself was running a decade of sharp ideological battles with the last general election a bloody confrontation. But the Grenada Marxist coup was the sort of thing people only heard on BBC world news from some distant place; not in our midst. Bishop's own coup against a corrupt and oppressive Gairy regime had been widely regarded as a tolerable act of liberation and Bishop himself was Mr. Nice Guy. Now this was something else. A fearful Caribbean was seeing red!


We still have yet to fully untangle the consultations which took place among Caribbean leaders and with the United States. But a dozen days after the counter coup United States troops were thundering into Grenada in Operation Urgent Fury, ordered by President Ronald Reagan. Grenadians, by and large, and Caribbean peoples regard the badly named military operation as an act of liberation by a powerful friend

Not in his wildest dreams could Ronald Reagan have imagined that his dangerously simple-minded challenge to communism could have so dramatically turned the tide in his lifetime. No one predicted the early unravelling of what Reagan referred to as the 'evil empire' and its Eastern European satellites, to the gasps of his wise and urbane technocrats and policy advisers embarrassed by their simplistic President. Nor was the quick reunification of the Germanies anticipated.


On Jamaican soil, Reagan declared a year and a half before Operation Urgent Fury that, "Economic development and freedom are compatible and, in practice, mutually reinforcing." To which his erstwhile foe Mikhail Gorbachev can say amen, certainly in hindsight. China, Cuba, Vietnam and any other residual Marxist states out there are about to learn the grand Soviet lesson: open markets, and political freedoms will follow. Gorbachev's Glasnost and Perestroika marked the end of the Soviet Union not by design or accident but by a certain inevitability embedded in the imperative of freedom.

The towering greatness of the 40th President of the United States is assured alongside that of his dogged British ally Margaret Thatcher. Both are still deeply hated at home and abroad, and not entirely without good reason. But they have changed the world in fundamental and dramatic ways.

The more I survey the scene of human history, the more I am convinced that great leadership requires an acute simplicity and clarity of vision, certitude of principle, and the capacity to act with singleness of purpose. In a complex and diverse world, such a 'narrow' approach to leadership is dismissed by sophisticates as simple-minded stupidity ­ a label which critics sought to attach to Ronald Reagan but which the remarkably brief history of less than 20 years has shaken off and dropped in its dustbin.
So, what has stopped the Caribbean from seeing the war in Iraq as another "act of liberation by a powerful friend"?


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