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The administration not only switched military leadership, they even swayed legal opinion and legal directives. Before the Panama invasion, the administration's Justice Department issued a legal opinion that overruled a Carter administration opinion. This new opinion allowed the President to order the FBI to seize a criminal in a foreign nation who had broken a U.S. law. This was dissimilar to international law, and it clearly was a reference to Noriega in Panama, who the administration accused of dealing in massive amounts of drugs that eventually reached U.S. soil.
It is interesting to note that throughout these chapters, Woodward portrays the military as much more cautious than the administration. He notes that the military are the people who actually have to carry out the invasions and covert operations were not as anxious to use force as the administration. While the media often portrays military leaders as "gung-ho" advocates of war above all else, it seems the modern military has a more prudent nature, but they attack at the whim of the commander-in-chief, and in the Bush administration, these attacks often did seem like carefully orchestrated whims. As another collection of authors note, there were some provocations from Panama that led to the invasion, but there has always been significant questioning as to whether these incidents indeed were serious enough to lead to an act of war. They write,
The incidents are serious, but the question is whether they warranted the launching of "Operation Just Cause" -- a full-scale invasion, of a size not seen since the Vietnam War, and eventually consisting of 12,000 American invaders (added to the approximately 12,000 U.S. military personnel already stationed in Panama), helicopter gunships, artillery and other heavy firepower. The military attack resulted in the death of 26 Americans and over 700 Panamanians, mostly civilians, in addition to severe and widespread physical devastation, property damage and dislocation.
Was the military "hopelessly contaminated," and was the Panama invasion strictly politically motivated? At one point, Colin Powell notes that all Washington generals are politically motivated.
However, this administration seemed extremely interested in promoting its political agenda using military force. Panama was not the first instance of this military might, and it would not be the last. The Bush administration used political occurrences to promote military prowess and the use of military force to get what it wanted.
In conclusion, Woodward's book, along with other contemporary documents, indicates the G.H.W. Bush administration had quite clear political objectives in the invasion of Panama. While publicly they cited the need to "protect U.S. citizens," in reality the real reason the U.S. invaded Panama in 1989 was that it made political sense to the administration. They wanted to remove General Noriega from power because they saw him as a threat. When a local coup was unsuccessful, the invasion was on. Most experts concur that the invasion was a more personal issue to the President, rather than a compelling threat to America and Americans. Politically, the administration had an issue with Noriega and Panama. They built a strong foundation of military presence, changes in leadership, and posturing that resulted in the 1989 invasion of Panama and capture of General Noriega. This indicates that personal political agendas may often lead to covert and overt military actions by U.S. forces around the world.
Lagon, Mark P. "5 Elite Values." U.S.-Latin American Policymaking: A Reference Handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. 67-89.
Nanda, Ved P., Tom J. Farer, and Anthony D'Amato. "Agora: U.S. Forces in Panama: Defenders, Aggressors or Human Rights Activists?" American Journal of International Law 84.2 (1990): 494-524.
Woodward, Bob. The Commanders. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.
Bob Woodward, The Commanders. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991) 98.
Mark P. Lagon, "5 Elite Values," U.S.-Latin American Policymaking: A Reference Handbook, ed. David W. Dent (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995) 87.
Ved P. Nanda, Tom J. Farer and Anthony D'Amato, "Agora: U.S. Forces in Panama: Defenders, Aggressors or Human…[continue]
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