International Students Caught Up in Crimean Crisis—Some Echoes of Grenada, But Not in the U.S. Media

In some respects, but especially in terms of its higher-ed dimensions, the Russian invasion of Crimea seems to echo the American invasion of Grenada. Those readers who were old enough to be following the news in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president, will remember the U.S. invasion of that small Caribbean island with a population of just over 90,000. It was a grungy little projection of military power that ostensibly was one of the events that, taken together, purged the U.S. military of its post-Vietnam swoon in self-confidence. But there was such a determined effort to sell the invasion in this manner to the American public that what happened is often hard to distinguish from what many preferred to believe had happened.

Far from being an illustration of restored American military power and confidence, the invasion actually exposed many problems in military intelligence, communication, and coordination—so many that a Congressional commission was formed to identify, investigate, and recommend solutions to the problems. After the initial effort stalled somewhat, reinforcements supported by heavier air power had to be brought into the conflict, until the American forces outnumbered the enemy by more than three to one and simply overwhelmed them.

Just over 7,000 U.S. troops participated in the invasion, along with about 350 troops from a half-dozen very small nations in the Western Hemisphere. The official story was that it was an international effort, but the invasion was denounced by a 108 to 9 vote in the United Nations, with even Margaret Thatcher’s government in Great Britain voicing pointed criticism.

Also, the invasion occurred in the immediate aftermath of the truck-bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, certainly a low point in U.S. post-Vietnam military history and a very serious blow to the conception of the Reagan administration as the restorer of international respect for U.S. power. The need to make a demonstration of strength and valor was very evident in the fact that the U.S. military ultimately awarded more than 5,000 decorations to the 7,000-plus U.S. troops who participated in the invasion.

Norman Schwarzkopf was the deputy commander of the invasion, and in striking contrast to his management of the media during Operation Desert Storm a half-decade later, he provoked considerable criticism both for making unfounded claims of enemy atrocities and for inflating the casualty counts among the enemy—both reminiscent of the military’s undermining of its own credibility during the Vietnam War. Likewise, some U.S. casualties resulted from “friendly fire,” and many of the several dozen civilian casualties were caused by the “accidental” bombing of a mental hospital.

In the film Heartbreak Ridge, Hollywood got some of the problems with command right, but that Clint Eastwood film also got some very basic details completely wrong. For instance, it portrays the forces spearheading the invasion as Marines when they were actually Army units.

The main reason for the invasion was ostensibly the restoration of legitimate democratic government to the island. But there were two political factions that had been competing for power in the decade since the island had achieved independence from Great Britain, and one election had been followed by three coups. The last coup involved the formal military, but the previous two coups had been supported by the private paramilitary forces of the competing political factions. The main difference with the final coup before the invasion seems to have been that the army now was siding with the faction that sought closer ties with Cuba, rather than with the United States.

When the U.S. media began to focus in on the fact that neither competing political faction in Grenada had demonstrated much faith in democratic elections, the arguments in support of the invasion shifted to the protection of the American students enrolled in the medical school of St. George’s University. Less than a half-decade removed from the prolonged Iranian hostage crisis that, more than anything else, had undermined the reputation of the Carter administration, it was an easy case to make that the students might very well have become hostages in a last desperate effort to forestall an American invasion. The irony is that one of the things that most exposed the deficiencies in military intelligence was the fact that for more than a day after the invasion, the military was not even aware that the students were located in two separate facilities. So, although one group was “rescued” quite quickly, the other group was left completely unprotected during the height of the fighting.

Despite all of the attention given to the current crisis in Crimea, we haven’t heard much about the impact on international students of the Russian invasion of Crimea, but perhaps that’s not surprising. Putting aside the insistence by some of Obama’s most persistent critics that the Crimean crisis demonstrates something significant about American foreign policy, the crisis is not of enough concern to most Americans to deflect the obsessive media determination to create “news” out of the lack of facts about the missing Malaysian airliner. Moreover, although the Crimea State Medical University actively recruits international students, none of them currently are American. And although the story has gotten coverage in every nation from which the students have originated, the only sustained coverage of the story has been in India because almost 1,100, or almost half, of the international students are Indian.

Here is a breakdown of those international students by country of origin. The list is available on the University’s website:

Afghanistan 16

Antigua and Barbuda 11

Australia 11

Azerbaijan 11

Bahrain 11

Bangladesh 24

Bulgaria 14

Cameroon 17

Canada 12

China 14

Congo 13

Egypt 11

Eritrea 11

Ethiopia 11

Georgia 14

Ghana 69

Great Britain 15

Guinea 11

India 1089

Iran 11

Iraq 120

Israel 13

Jamaica 11

Djibouti 12

Jordan 16

Kenya 47

Korea 11

Kuwait 12

Lebanon 15

Libya 20

Malaysians 38

Maldives 27

Mauritius 11

Morocco 14

Myanmar 11

Nepal 36

Netherlands 12

New Zealand 11

Nigeria 482

Norway 13

OAE 11

Oman 11

Pakistan 136

Palestine 20

Russia 35

Saudi Arabia 13

Singapore 11

Somali 23

Sri-Lanka 57

Sudan 17

Sweden 12

Syria 39

Tanzania 25

Tunis 21

Turkey 11

Turkmenistan 17

Uganda 13

Without citizenship 11

Zambia 13

Zimbabwe 11

The 11 students listed as “without citizenship” are of particular interest since their ambiguous circumstances now extend to some degree to not just all of the international students at this university but to most of the Ukrainian students there. For there has been much concern in the Ukrainian press about the status of the bulk of the Ukrainian students who are not native to the Crimea. Of course, all of the international students are concerned that their current visas may no longer be valid. Worse, even if their visas are adjusted by the new Russian government, there is a possibility that they then might not be recognized in the other nations through which the students must pass in traveling back and forth to their home countries.

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