The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] The forgotten Bush War

[ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ]

I was listening to the radio on my way home from work today (public radio, you can't get anything 
but Pentagon misinformation on corporate radio here).  There was a guy being interviewed who served 
in the US military during the late 80's.  He said part of Carter's agreement to allow Panama to 
take control of the canal was the stipulation that they must have a military capable of defending 
it.  Well, when the US invaded, even AFTER they gained air superiority, AND ground superiority 
(probably took all of 20 minutes), they set charges in all the planes, blew up all the military 
vehicles and destroyed their "Pentagon", ensuring US control over the Panama Canal for a long time 
to come.  Kind of puts Bush Jr's actions into perspective...


Many factors resulted in the US applying unilateral military force to end the rule of Noriega. They 
can be summarised into two sections. Those that related to the immediate necessities of US domestic 
politics and those which related to longer-term foreign relations. It was these factors which 
culminated and led to yet another US show of overt military force in the region by invading. Only 
six years earlier the US invaded another part of Central America, Grenada in 1983. Its covert 
actions in the region were more numerous.

With his election Bush, though he had been Vice-President during the Reagan administration, had to 
prove his worth. It was felt he needed to cast himself as a strong leader willing to use force. 
Unlike the past the US was not able to cast Noriega as acting for the Soviets as a pretext for 
acting aggressively towards him. Where once the threat of communism had been used as a pretext for 
US military force, Bush said "Operation Just Cause was launched to defend [the US] from 
narcotraffickers seeking to destroy" them.(19) In the propaganda campaign that led up to the 
invasion the US focused on Noriega's drug dealing activities. Activities they had known about since 
1983 when as a result it was believed "Noriega was losing his value to the CIA as an intelligence 
source."(20) It was extremely opportune to use the war on drugs as justification to invade Panama, 
but hollow if one considers the time the US had known about it. Even after the invasion the US 
failed to put a stop to the illicit drug trade.
The propaganda war was extremely successful for Bush's administration. Images coming out of Panama 
of the bloody riots and chaos after the 1989 elections were used by "Bush in his justifications of 
the invasion."21 He told his inner-circle at the time that "television pictures of Americans being 
clubbed and fleeing with blood encrusted shirts [as seen of the Panamanian vice-president elect 
Guillermo Ford] would require immediate action."22 Later he would use this pretext of protecting US 
citizens as one of his key justifications for the invasion. There is little evidence to support the 
belief that US citizens were in danger of their lives as most of them lived in and around the US 
bases in Panama. If anything, the US' moves to escalate the conflict, including sending armed 
military convoys across Panamanian territory, had put their lives in danger.
Indeed one US serviceman was shot dead by a PDF soldier in late 1989. The shooting occurred when a 
car carrying US military personnel panicked and attempted to run a PDF road block. Another incident 
involved the interrogation of a US officer and his wife by the PDF. It included physical threats 
against his wife before they were later released. This was held up by Bush in an emotional 
statement as a threat to US womanhood.
However, noted media and political critic Noam Chomsky points out, that Bush chose to ignore an 
incident only weeks earlier of "an American nun, Diana Ortiz,....[who was] kidnapped, tortured and 
sexually abused by the Guatemalan police," among other "threats"(23) to US womanhood in Central 
America. Along a similar vein Noriega's record on human rights pales into insignificance when 
compared to the thousands killed by the right-wing governments of Panama's neighbours.
Economically, Panama was of no importance to the US, its trade with Central America in 1986 
amounting to "less than 1 percent of US trade."(24) Although it must be said that many countries on 
the west coast of South America used the canal to export to the US. The US sanctions, begun in 
1987, only served to wreck Panama's national economy and did little to undermine Noriega's funding 
(drug-money) which was unsanctioned in any case in the international community.
Politically, the US pretence of re-estabilishing democracy was also hypocritical after their 
reaction to the 1984 elections as well as their continued support for other oligarchies and 
dictatorships in the hemisphere. As the Panamanian Foreign Minister (after the invasion) said, "I 
am sure the US did not carry out its military action to liberate Panama, but for reasons related to 
its own interests."(25) In any case, the new government was shown to be corrupt and Panama remained 
a haven for drug-trafficking.
Strategically Panama was the linchpin for the US in the region. SouthCom, it was believed, could 
not have had a better location. It gave the US great leverage in the region and allowed the US to 
protect the canal from outside threats. However, the naval importance of being able to use the 
canal had diminished considerably over the years as a result of having two separate navies and also 
aircraft carriers that were too large to fit. With complete US domination of the region growing 
smaller the need show its military capabilities was unnecessary.
When the US announced it had invaded Panama it did so saying it was in response to the "state of 
war" issued a few days earlier by Noriega. Again, this attempt to justify the invasion has been 
refuted. Chomsky quotes international law professor Alfred Rubin who pointed out that the 
Panamanian National "Assembly had declared what amounts to a state of emergency for the duration of 
the aggression unleashed by the US government."(26) Legally, the US contravened international law 
and its treaty obligations to both the OAS and Panama itself. If a lesser country had attempted the 
same there can be no doubt that they would have undergone extremely harsh international 
Ultimately the decision to invade was based on the need to establish a US-friendly Panamanian 
government. With the strategically important canal "scheduled to pass from the US to Panama's 
control at the end of the century and 12,000 American military personnel and many of their families 
living in Panama, the Bush administration wanted Noriega out."(27) With a pro-US government in 
place to facilitate the changes it could lead to treaty concessions. In the words of the US 
Commander in Chief of the Air Force "the choice for the US was either to get out of Panama entirely 
or get in all the way....there was no [other] (28)choice."
The "gun-boat" diplomacy that gave birth to a nation also served to overcome it. It was inevitable 
that the US would invade Panama, however unjustified its actions were. Their macho stand-off and 
aggressive tactics served to remind the rest of the world that US military force is still an option 
where diplomatic or economic solutions fail. Panama was created to serve US interests living 
forever with its sovereignty under threat. With so much history of US intervention combined with 
the political timeliness for President Bush in the US, the 1989 invasion of Panama was a foregone 

Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Mail Plus - Powerful. Affordable. Sign up now

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]