Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Panama 1989 and the Iraq War

Greg Grandin has a provocative essay about Old Man Bush's 1989 unilateral military intervention in Panama, How the Iraq War Began in Panama NACLA 12/24/2014:

There were casualties. More than 20 U.S. soldiers were killed and 300-500 Panamanian combatants died as well. Disagreement exists over how many civilians perished. Washington claimed that few died. In the “low hundreds,” the Pentagon’s Southern Command said. But others charged that U.S. officials didn’t bother to count the dead in El Chorrillo, a poor Panama City barrio that U.S. planes indiscriminately bombed because it was thought to be a bastion of support for Noriega. Grassroots human-rights organizations claimed thousands of civilians were killed and tens of thousands displaced.
He recounts how Old Man Bush increasingly framed his intervention in Panama, which was really a cynical "regime change" operation, as based on the high principles of upholding democracy.

It wasn't a new claim. But it arguably took on a new aura of universal validity in the atmosphere of the moment, when the Soviet bloc was visibly in the process of disintegrating. Grandin writes:

In the mythology of American militarism that has taken hold since George W. Bush’s disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his father, George H.W. Bush, is often held up as a paragon of prudence—especially when compared to the later reckless lunacy of Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. After all, their agenda held that it was the messianic duty of the United States to rid the world not just of “evil-doers” but “evil” itself. In contrast, Bush Senior, we are told, recognized the limits of American power. He was a realist and his circumscribed Gulf War was a “war of necessity” where his son’s 2003 invasion of Iraq was a catastrophic “war of choice.” But it was H.W. who first rolled out a “freedom agenda” to legitimize the illegal invasion of Panama.

Likewise, the moderation of George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Colin Powell, has often been contrasted favorably with the rashness of the neocons in the post-9/11 years. As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989, however, Powell was hot for getting Noriega. In discussions leading up to the invasion, he advocated forcefully for military action, believing it offered an opportunity to try out what would later become known as “the Powell Doctrine.” Meant to ensure that there would never again be another Vietnam or any kind of American military defeat, that doctrine was to rely on a set of test questions for any potential operation involving ground troops that would limit military operations to defined objectives. Among them were: Is the action in response to a direct threat to national security? Do we have a clear goal? Is there an exit strategy?
Dick Cheney was Old Man Bush's Secretary of Defense. He and Powell would later play their well-known, malignant roles in the invasion of Iraq and the torture crimes.

The United States relies far too much on war in our foreign policy. It's a bipartisan affliction, though the Republicans are more blatant in the worship of force and the glorification of war.

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