Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq

We might call it the Cheney Arc of War. Dark Lord Cheney was the Secretary of Defense in Old Man Bush's administration and, of course, the Acting President for Foreign Policy and Torture during the Shrub Bush administration.

It's often observed that the rapid ousting of the government in Kabul during beginning of the Afghanistan War was widely perceived by neocons and many others in the foreign policy establishment as a quick win. A quick win that leaves us still fighting there eight years later with no end in sight. But the perceived blitzkrieg success of that war was a significant factor in making the administration and Congress willing to go forward with the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Jordan Michael Smith in Noriega's Revenge Foreign Policy 23/18/09 makes the intriguing suggestion that the 1989 invasion of Panama may have played a similar role in relation to the Gulf War against Iraq of 1991:

The brief and relatively bloodless war in Panama convinced Americans that the use of force could easily solve their problems overseas -- and, what's more, that the United States could largely accomplish this on its own. The United States did not seek international approval before invading Panama, as it did before the first Gulf War. In a recent interview with Foreign Policy, [former US Ambassador to the UN Thomas] Pickering noted that before the 1990 [sic!] invasion of Iraq, "[W]e undertook quite a remarkable series of activities inside the Security Council," including resolutions that imposed economic sanctions on the country and, after the war, the establishment of a peacekeeping force to protect the Kurds. [my emphasis]
Smith overstates the case a bit. American arrogance of power about military force didn't begin in 1989 and, as we see with Obama's escalation in Afghanistan, it didn't end with the Iraq War. But this gives you a picture of the wet dreams into which the Panama invasion sent the neocons:

The brilliant success of the Panama invasion contributed to a feeling of American invincibility. Influential conservative commentators repeatedly cited its success as a reason to invade Iraq after the 9/11 attacks. "The Falklands, Panama, Serbia, and the Middle East all demonstrate the power of legitimate governments over dictatorships," wrote Victor Davis Hanson, explaining how the same would be the case with Iraq. In his influential essay "Power and Weakness," Robert Kagan argued that "with the check of Soviet power removed, the United States was free to intervene practically wherever and whenever it chose -- a fact reflected in the proliferation of overseas military interventions that began during the first Bush administration with the invasion of Panama in 1989." Finally, George Will praised the invasion as "punctuat[ing] a decade of recovery of national purposefulness and a year of militant democracy." [my emphasis]
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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


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