|Previous segment |Next segment | Contents | Overview | Archive | ZNet|
Broder believes that "Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, after floundering around on the question of military interventions, came up with a set of standards strikingly similar to Weinberger's" during the 1988 presidential campaign. These standards, as outlined by his senior foreign policy adviser, were that U.S. force could be used "to deter aggression against its territory, to protect American citizens, to honor our treaty obligations and take action against terrorists," after peaceful means had failed. "The Panama invasion met all of those tests," Broder concludes with satisfaction.
One can appreciate the joyful mood among State Department propagandists. Even they did not dare to claim to be deterring Panamanian aggression or taking action against terrorists. And while they did act out the usual routine about protecting American lives, it is unlikely that they anticipated more than polite smiles.
There was also the ritual gesture towards international law, but it too was hardly intended seriously. The nature of the endeavor was indicated by U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who informed the United Nations that Article 51 of the U.N. Charter (which restricts the use of force to self-defense against armed attack until the Security Council acts) "provides for the use of armed force to defend a country, to defend our interests and our people." It was clarified further by the Justice Department theory that the same provision of the Charter entitles the U.S. to invade Panama to prevent its "territory from being used as a base for smuggling drugs into the United States" -- so that, a fortiori, Nicaragua would be entitled to invade and occupy Washington.17
In fact, it is transparently impossible to reconcile the invasion with the supreme law of the land as codified in the U.N. Charter, the OAS treaty, or the Panama Canal treaty. Even the pre-invasion efforts to topple Noriega are manifestly in conflict with our solemn obligations as a law-abiding nation, including the economic warfare that destroyed the economy, "about as clear-cut an instance of direct or indirect intervention and `coercive measures of an economic character' as can be imagined," Charles Maechling observes, citing Articles 18 and 19 of the OAS Charter which explicitly bar such measures "for any reason whatever," and other equally clear proscriptions. The same obligations of course rule out the economic warfare against Nicaragua that was condemned by the World Court and the GATT Council, and supported across the U.S. political spectrum. U.S. measures against Panama were also condemned by the Latin American countries, routinely and irrelevantly. Thus, on July 1, 1987 the OAS condemned U.S. intervention in Panama by a vote of 17 to 1 (the U.S. alone in opposition, and several client states abstaining or absent). Commenting on this (typically ignored) event, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, Mexican political commentator and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, observes that "We Latins believe that altruistic causes such as `democracy' and `freedom' and even economic assistance are often mere pretexts to hide illegitimate purposes," which is also why U.S. policies towards Nicaragua received no support in Latin America, even among "Latins who do not like the Sandinistas and would prefer to see them turned out of power."18
Broder is pleased that "we have achieved a good deal of clarity in the nation on this question [of the right of intervention], which divided us so badly during and after the Vietnam war." And this "important achievement...should not be obscured by a few dissident voices on the left," with their qualms about the prudence of the action. His evaluation recalls a comment by one of the more significant figures in 20th century America, the radical pacifist A. J. Muste: "The problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?"
Ever since the latter days of the Indochina wars, elite groups have been concerned over the erosion of popular support for force and subversion ("the Vietnam syndrome"). Intensive efforts have been made to cure the malady, but in vain. The Reaganites assumed that it had been overcome by the propaganda triumphs over the suffering and tragedies of the societies ravaged by U.S. terror in Indochina, the Iran hostage crisis, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They learned differently when they tried to return to the traditional pattern of intervention in Central America, but were driven underground by the public reaction, forced to retreat to clandestine and indirect measures of terror and intimidation. Through the 1980s, hopes have been voiced that we have finally overcome "the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force" (Norman Podhoretz, referring to the grand triumph in Grenada). In the more nuanced tones of the liberal commentator, Broder too is expressing the hope that finally the population has been restored to health and will end its childish obsession with the rule of law and human rights.
His "new consensus," however, is largely illusory, restricted to those who have always recognized that U.S. global designs require the resort to state violence, terror, and subversion. The new consensus is more properly described as a heightened self-confidence on the part of those who shared the old consensus on the legitimacy of violence and the "salutary efficacy" of terror.
The elite reaction to the invasion did not pass unnoticed abroad. An editorial in Canada's leading journal condemned "the shallow, boosterish U.S. media" with their "chilling indifference to the fate of innocent Panamanians who have been victimized by this successful little military deployment." A columnist commented on "the mood of jingoism" fostered by the media, the "peculiar jingoism so evident to foreigners but almost invisible for most Americans." "Reporters seeking alternative comments on the invasion typically have to go to the fringe of U.S. society merely to gather opinions on the invasion that would be common in other countries," and the foreign consensus in opposition to this use of force was "given short shrift in the U.S. media." A typical example is the (null) reaction to the U.S. veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the ransacking of the residence of Nicaragua's ambassador to Panama by U.S. troops, voted 13 to 1 with only Britain abstaining.19
As always, if the world is out of step, it's their problem, not ours.
|Go to the next segment.|
17 AP, Dec. 20, 1989, my emphasis; Richard Cole, AP, BG, Feb. 3, 1990.
18 Maechling, a former senior State Department official and professor of international law, "Washington's Illegal Invasion," Foreign Policy, Summer 1990. Aguilar Zinser, "In Latin America, `Good' U.S. Intervention Is Still No Intervention," WP, Aug. 5, 1987. See also Alfred P. Rubin, professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, "Is Noriega Worth Subverting US Law?," Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 1990, discussing the blatantly illegal actions against Noriega personally.
19 Editorial, Toronto Globe & Mail, Jan. 3, 1990; Martin Mittelstaedt, G&M, Dec. 22, 1989. NYT, Jan. 18, 1990.