The War to Start All Wars: The 25th Anniversary of the Forgotten Invasion of Panama

Yves here. Why is war becoming a dominant line of business for a soi-disant democracy? In the 19th century, the consensus among the capitalist classes was that armed conflict was bad for business. Europe had a nearly 100 year of peace, with only short-lived conflicts as punctuation.

The rationale for America’s militaristic foreign policy was that spreading democracy would promote peace, since as conventional wisdom had it, democracies don’t go to war with other democracies. But the more accurate statement might be that many democracies (Russia and most countries in South America being noteworthy exceptions) have accepted the US security umbrella and are no longer capable of defending themselves (for instance, Mathew D. Rose noted that “much of the German military hardware is dysfunctional due to austerity and endemic corruption“). But the promise of a Pax Americana in the wake of the fall of the USSR has instead morphed into the US running ongoing wars and counterinsurgencies, even as our troops are strained to the breaking point. And it’s clear that these campaigns are more about looting than about making America and its allies safer. The classic Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War has an afterword which discusses the failed Iraq peace, pointing out that it was absurd to expect the Iraqi army to be able to stand up against foreign attack (this years before it collapsed when ISIS looked cross-eyed at it). Similarly, that a big part of the failure to reconstruct the country was due to the use of US contractors. Not only did they cost ridiculously more, but the failure to employ local firms and hire locals meant little of the spending went into the Iraq economy. Rebuilding would also have given young men meaningful and well-paid work. The absence of that made them good raw material for the opposition.

In other words, America has turned long-standing commercial logic on its head. Yet there has been perilous little in the way of complaint from the business community. Is it because one of America’s recent growth engined, the tech industry, gets far too much in the way of goodies from defense-related R&D to challenge this equation? Or that US multinationals believe, rightly or wrongly, that the safety of their extended supply chains depends on military might, and so they see their interests as aligned with US adventurism? Or is it simply that the US has gotten to be very good at propaganda (see Alex Carey, Taking the Risk out of Democracy, for a long-form treatment), with the result that many people operate from assumptions that would not stand up to scrutiny?

By Greg Grandin, the author of a number of books including, most recently, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, which was a finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize, was anointed by Fresh Air’s Maureen Corrigan as the best book of the year, and was also on the “best of” lists of the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and the Financial Times. He blogs for the Nation magazine and teaches at New York University. Originally published at TomDispatch

As we end another year of endless war in Washington, it might be the perfect time to reflect on the War That Started All Wars — or at least the war that started all of Washington’s post-Cold War wars: the invasion of Panama.

Twenty-five years ago this month, early on the morning of December 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush launched Operation Just Cause, sending tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of aircraft into Panama to execute a warrant of arrest against its leader, Manuel Noriega, on charges of drug trafficking. Those troops quickly secured all important strategic installations, including the main airport in Panama City, various military bases, and ports. Noriega went into hiding before surrendering on January 3rd and was then officially extradited to the United States to stand trial. Soon after, most of the U.S. invaders withdrew from the country.

In and out. Fast and simple. An entrance plan and an exit strategy all wrapped in one. And it worked, making Operation Just Cause one of the most successful military actions in U.S. history. At least in tactical terms.

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.

As Human Rights Watch wrote, even conservative estimates of civilian fatalities suggested “that the rule of proportionality and the duty to minimize harm to civilians… were not faithfully observed by the invading U.S. forces.” That may have been putting it mildly when it came to the indiscriminant bombing of a civilian population, but the point at least was made. Civilians were given no notice. The Cobra and Apache helicopters that came over the ridge didn’t bother to announce their pending arrival by blasting Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” (as in Apocalypse Now). The University of Panama’s seismograph marked 442 major explosions in the first 12 hours of the invasion, about one major bomb blast every two minutes. Fires engulfed the mostly wooden homes, destroying about 4,000 residences. Some residents began to call El Chorrillo “Guernica” or “little Hiroshima.” Shortly after hostilities ended, bulldozers excavated mass graves and shoveled in the bodies. “Buried like dogs,” said the mother of one of the civilian dead.

Sandwiched between the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, and the commencement of the first Gulf War on January 17, 1991, Operation Just Cause might seem a curio from a nearly forgotten era, its anniversary hardly worth a mention. So many earth-shattering events have happened since. But the invasion of Panama should be remembered in a big way.  After all, it helps explain many of those events. In fact, you can’t begin to fully grasp the slippery slope of American militarism in the post-9/11 era — how unilateral, preemptory “regime change” became an acceptable foreign policy option, how “democracy promotion” became a staple of defense strategy, and how war became a branded public spectacle — without understanding Panama.

Our Man in Panama

Operation Just Cause was carried out unilaterally, sanctioned neither by the United Nations nor the Organization of American States (OAS).  In addition, the invasion was the first post-Cold War military operation justified in the name of democracy — “militant democracy,” as George Will approvingly called what the Pentagon would unilaterally install in Panama.

The campaign to capture Noriega, however, didn’t start with such grand ambitions. For years, as Saddam Hussein had been Washington’s man in Iraq, so Noriega was a CIA asset and Washington ally in Panama.  He was a key player in the shadowy network of anti-communists, tyrants, and drug runners that made up what would become Iran-Contra. That, in case you’ve forgotten, was a conspiracy involving President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council to sell high-tech missiles to the Ayatollahs in Iran and then divert their payments to support anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua in order to destabilize the Sandinista government there. Noriega’s usefulness to Washington came to an end in 1986, after journalist Seymour Hersh published an investigation in the New York Times linking him to drug trafficking. It turned out that the Panamanian autocrat had been working both sides. He was “our man,” but apparently was also passing on intelligence about us to Cuba.

Still, when George H.W. Bush was inaugurated president in January 1989, Panama was not high on his foreign policy agenda. Referring to the process by which Noriega, in less than a year, would become America’s most wanted autocrat, Bush’s National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft said: “I can’t really describe the course of events that led us this way… Noriega, was he running drugs and stuff? Sure, but so were a lot of other people. Was he thumbing his nose at the United States? Yeah, yeah.”

The Keystone Kops…

Domestic politics provided the tipping point to military action. For most of 1989, Bush administration officials had been half-heartedly calling for a coup against Noriega. Still, they were caught completely caught off guard when, in October, just such a coup started unfolding. The White House was, at that moment, remarkably in the dark. It had no clear intel about what was actually happening. ”All of us agreed at that point that we simply had very little to go on,” Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney later reported. “There was a lot of confusion at the time because there was a lot of confusion in Panama.”

“We were sort of the Keystone Kops,” was the way Scowcroft remembered it, not knowing what to do or whom to support. When Noriega regained the upper hand, Bush came under intense criticism in Congress and the media. This, in turn, spurred him to act. Scowcroft recalls the momentum that led to the invasion: “Maybe we were looking for an opportunity to show that we were not as messed up as the Congress kept saying we were, or as timid as a number of people said.” The administration had to find a way to respond, as Scowcroft put it, to the “whole wimp factor.”

Momentum built for action, and so did the pressure to find a suitable justification for action after the fact. Shortly after the failed coup, Cheney claimed on PBS’s Newshour that the only objectives the U.S. had in Panama were to “safeguard American lives” and “protect American interests” by defending that crucial passageway from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, the Panama Canal. “We are not there,” he emphasized, “to remake the Panamanian government.” He also noted that the White House had no plans to act unilaterally against the wishes of the Organization of American States to extract Noriega from the country. The “hue and cry and the outrage that we would hear from one end of the hemisphere to the other,” he said, “…raises serious doubts about the course of that action.”

That was mid-October. What a difference two months would make. By December 20th, the campaign against Noriega had gone from accidental — Keystone Kops bumbling in the dark — to transformative: the Bush administration would end up remaking the Panamanian government and, in the process, international law.

…Start a Wild Fire

Cheney wasn’t wrong about the “hue and cry.” Every single country other than the United States in the Organization of American States voted against the invasion of Panama, but by then it couldn’t have mattered less. Bush acted anyway.

What changed everything was the fall of the Berlin Wall just over a month before the invasion. Paradoxically, as the Soviet Union’s influence in its backyard (eastern Europe) unraveled, it left Washington with more room to maneuver in its backyard (Latin America). The collapse of Soviet-style Communism also gave the White House an opportunity to go on the ideological and moral offense. And at that moment, the invasion of Panama happened to stand at the head of the line.

As with most military actions, the invaders had a number of justifications to offer, but at that moment the goal of installing a “democratic” regime in power suddenly flipped to the top of the list. In adopting that rationale for making war, Washington was in effect radically revising the terms of international diplomacy. At the heart of its argument was the idea that democracy (as defined by the Bush administration) trumped the principle of national sovereignty.

Latin American nations immediately recognized the threat. After all, according to historian John Coatsworth, the U.S. overthrew 41 governments in Latin America between 1898 and 1994, and many of those regime changes were ostensibly carried out, as Woodrow Wilson once put it in reference to Mexico, to teach Latin Americans “to elect good men.” Their resistance only gave Bush’s ambassador to the OAS, Luigi Einaudi, a chance to up the ethical ante. He quickly and explicitly tied the assault on Panama to the wave of democracy movements then sweeping Eastern Europe. “Today we are… living in historic times,” he lectured his fellow OAS delegates, two days after the invasion, “a time when a great principle is spreading across the world like wildfire. That principle, as we all know, is the revolutionary idea that people, not governments, are sovereign.”

Einaudi’s remarks hit on all the points that would become so familiar early in the next century in George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda”: the idea that democracy, as defined by Washington, was a universal value; that “history” represented a movement toward the fulfillment of that value; and that any nation or person who stood in the path of such fulfillment would be swept away.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Einaudi said, democracy had acquired the “force of historical necessity.” It went without saying that the United States, within a year the official victor in the Cold War and the “sole superpower” left on Planet Earth, would be the executor of that necessity.  Bush’s ambassador reminded his fellow delegates that the “great democratic tide which is now sweeping the globe” had actually started in Latin America, with human rights movements working to end abuses by military juntas and dictators.  The fact that Latin American’s freedom fighters had largely been fighting against U.S.-backed anti-communist rightwing death-squad states was lost on the ambassador.

In the case of Panama, “democracy” quickly worked its way up the shortlist of casus belli.

In his December 20th address to the nation announcing the invasion, President Bush gave “democracy” as his second reason for going to war, just behind safeguarding American lives but ahead of combatting drug trafficking or protecting the Panama Canal. By the next day, at a press conference, democracy had leapt to the top of the list and so the president began his opening remarks this way: “Our efforts to support the democratic processes in Panama and to ensure continued safety of American citizens is now moving into its second day.”

George Will, the conservative pundit, was quick to realize the significance of this new post-Cold War rationale for military action. In a syndicated column headlined, “Drugs and Canal Are Secondary: Restoring Democracy Was Reason Enough to Act,” he praised the invasion for “stressing… the restoration of democracy,” adding that, by doing so, “the president put himself squarely in a tradition with a distinguished pedigree. It holds that America’s fundamental national interest is to be America, and the nation’s identity (its sense of its self, its peculiar purposefulness) is inseparable from a commitment to the spread — not the aggressive universalization, but the civilized advancement — of the proposition to which we, unique among nations, are, as the greatest American said, dedicated.”

That was fast. From Keystone Kops to Thomas Paine in just two months, as the White House seized the moment to radically revise the terms by which the U.S. engaged the world. In so doing, it overthrew not just Manuel Noriega but what, for half a century, had been the bedrock foundation of the liberal multilateral order: the ideal of national sovereignty.

Darkness Unto Light

The way the invasion was reported represented a qualitative leap in scale, intensity, and visibility when compared to past military actions. Think of the illegal bombing of Cambodia ordered by Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger in 1969 and conducted for more than five years in complete secrecy, or of the time lag between actual fighting in South Vietnam and the moment, often a day later, when it was reported.

In contrast, the war in Panama was covered with a you-are-there immediacy, a remarkable burst of shock-and-awe journalism (before the phrase “shock and awe” was even invented) meant to capture and keep the public’s attention. Operation Just Cause was “one of the shortest armed conflicts in American military history,” writes Brigadier General John Brown, a historian at the United States Army Center of Military History. It was also “extraordinarily complex, involving the deployment of thousands of personnel and equipment from distant military installations and striking almost two-dozen objectives within a 24-hour period of time… Just Cause represented a bold new era in American military force projection: speed, mass, and precision, coupled with immediate public visibility.”

Well, a certain kind of visibility at least. The devastation of El Chorrillo was, of course, ignored by the U.S. media.

In this sense, the invasion of Panama was the forgotten warm-up for the first Gulf War, which took place a little over a year later.  That assault was specifically designed for all the world to see. “Smart bombs” lit up the sky over Baghdad as the TV cameras rolled. Featured were new night-vision equipment, real-time satellite communications, and cable TV (as well as former U.S. commanders ready to narrate the war in the style of football announcers, right down to instant replays). All of this allowed for public consumption of a techno-display of apparent omnipotence that, at least for a short time, helped consolidate mass approval and was meant as both a lesson and a warning for the rest of the world. “By God,” Bush said in triumph, “we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”

It was a heady form of triumphalism that would teach those in Washington exactly the wrong lessons about war and the world.

Justice Is Our Brand

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?

It was Powell who first let the new style of American war go to his head and pushed for a more exalted name to brand the war with, one that undermined the very idea of those “limits” he was theoretically trying to establish. Following Pentagon practice, the operational plan to capture Noriega was to go by the meaningless name of “Blue Spoon.” That, Powell wrote in My American Journey, was “hardly a rousing call to arms… [So] we kicked around a number of ideas and finally settled on… Just Cause. Along with the inspirational ring, I liked something else about it. Even our severest critics would have to utter ‘Just Cause’ while denouncing us.”

Since the pursuit of justice is infinite, it’s hard to see what your exit strategy is once you claim it as your “cause.” Remember, George W. Bush’s original name for his Global War on Terror was to be the less-than-modest Operation Infinite Justice

Powell says he hesitated on the eve of the invasion, wondering if it really was the best course of action, but let out a “whoop and a holler” when he learned that Noriega had been found. A new Panamanian president had already been sworn in at Fort Clayton, a U.S. military base in the Canal Zone, hours before the invasion began.

Here’s the lesson Powell took from Panama: the invasion, he wrote, confirmed all his “convictions over the preceding twenty years, since the days of doubt over Vietnam. Have a clear political objective and stick to it. Use all the force necessary, and do not apologize for going in big if that is what it takes… As I write these words, almost six years after Just Cause, Mr. Noriega, convicted on the drug charges contained in the indictments, sits in an American prison cell. Panama has a new security force, and the country is still a democracy.”

That assessment was made in 1995. From a later vantage point, history’s judgment is not so sanguine. As George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, Thomas Pickering said about Operation Just Cause: “Having used force in Panama… there was a propensity in Washington to think that force could provide a result more rapidly, more effectively, more surgically than diplomacy.” The easy capture of Noriega meant “the notion that the international community had to be engaged… was ignored.”

“Iraq in 2003 was all of that shortsightedness in spades,” Pickering said. “We were going to do it all ourselves.” And we did.

The road to Baghdad, in other words, ran through Panama City.  It was George H.W. Bush’s invasion of that small, poor country 25 years ago that inaugurated the age of preemptive unilateralism, using “democracy” and “freedom” as both justifications for war and a branding opportunity. Later, after 9/11, when George W. insisted that the ideal of national sovereignty was a thing of the past, when he said nothing — certainly not the opinion of the international community — could stand in the way of the “great mission” of the United States to “extend the benefits of freedom across the globe,” all he was doing was throwing more fuel on the “wildfire” sparked by his father.  A wildfire some in Panama likened to a “little Hiroshima.”

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  1. gordon

    Panama in 1989/90 was way too late to be identified as the beginning of “the age of preemptive unilateralism”. I would say Vietnam – maybe the Tonkin Gulf Resolution gives a date which historians could argue for and against, the historical parallel being the Enabling Act after which the German Reichstag ceased to function.

    Whatever date you pick, it is in the past. I think it is fairly clear now that the US has embarked on a career of militaristic hegemonism which will be very hard to reverse without some kind of revolution. It would be nice to think that that revolution could be done democratically, though I don’t see how.

    After 1 Sept. 1939, there were no “good” Germans. After Dec. 7 1941, there were no “good” Japanese. We can argue about the date after which there were no “good” Americans, but it is somewhere in the past.

    1. rfdawn

      “Domestic politics provided the tipping point to military action.” That sounds familiar.

      1989 was not the beginning of unilateralism but marked the onset of acute “unipolar disorder”. The outside world now exists only as a kind of film set for create-your-own-reality melodramas scripted entirely at home. Looking out the window would be cheating.

    2. Carolinian

      After 1 Sept. 1939, there were no “good” Germans. After Dec. 7 1941, there were no “good” Japanese. We can argue about the date after which there were no “good” Americans, but it is somewhere in the past.

      This is quite the silly formula that applies a kind of thoughtless moralism to world events. If people are collectively guilty for the actions of their governments then I suppose we are all “bad.” The word loses its meaning.

      Btw quite a few people protested the Vietnam war and there were protests against the Panama invasion as well. I remember one protester was holding up a sign: “OK, you’re not a wimp.”

  2. I.G.I.

    The US development closely mimic the Third Reich – the militarized economy; the perpetual war and the glorification of violence; the looting of the conquered or the dependent under lofty pretenses; and the vast domestic spying and security categorization. The National Socialists had no coherent economic policy or vision, the economy was ran by a professional business class. And last but hardly the least, lets not forget that Hitler was democratically elected, and that the entire rule of the National Socialists enjoyed enormous domestic popular support – most Germans were behind the Government literally to the last moment of the war.

  3. vegasmike

    Generally, I oppose American military intervention. But perhaps Panama and Grenada are the exceptions that prove the rule. Unlike most of our interventions, these two invasions didn’t result in a decades long nightmare. In both cases, the American military didn’t occupy the country and also after the initial intervention, Grenada and Panama abolished their standing armies. Of course, most of our
    other actions have had a horrible results, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Viet Nam, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador etc.

    1. Crazy Horse

      Las Vegas,

      You ignore or omit the main point of the article. The unilateral attack on Panama is significant because it was the prototype for the subsequent American policy of Permanent Warfare, Shock & Awe bombing of civilian populations and made-for-TV news “reporting”.

      And what a success Panama has become. Third or fourth largest banking center on the planet. A skyline filled with majestic new high rise towers. The go-to location for laundering not just drug money, but tax avoidance profits/ thefts by the world’s largest corporations.

    2. susan the other

      Yes and it is very interesting how this has morphed. Right on schedule I’m sure. Witness Leon Panetta – a low level apparatchik – recently telling us that the “war on terror” was going to last another 30 years.

  4. Foppe

    Just a thought: during the 19th century, all the war experiences the European elites (and middling sorts) wanted to have could be had in the “overseas possessions”, even if these generally didn’t count as “wars”, because the colonies weren’t recognized as autonomous. (Not just proxy wars, also lots of genocidal action against primitives, who had to make way for the superior white race.) Recommended: Saharan Journey.

  5. John Mc

    William Blum’s work is relevant here as well, Killing Hope, 2004. Here are a few interesting tidbits:

    1. Noreiga’s mentor was General Omar Torrijos who along with Jaime Roldos of Ecuador was assassinated in a similar fashion of bomb on plane – (largely attributed to the CIA in 1981 – John Perkins’ work about Economic Hit Men). The backdrop for this had to do with the expansion of the Panama Canal/Panamanian drug trafficking policies of the state.

    2. Noriega was the CIA’s guy (and also had two rape charges against him solved by Torrijos p.306)

    3. There was a plan “to remove” the powerful Noriega (drug running) by the Nixon administration however the plumbers were not activated p. 306

    4. In November of 1983, Noreiga received “the red-carpet treatment in Washington, met with White House and State Department officials and had a four hour long lunch with William Casey – CIA Director — did this at least six times during the 1980s.” In 1976, Bush Sr. met with Noriega as well then as CIA director p.307 – When the issue of a drug war comes up or Gary Webb’s work, we see how complicit the state has been in allowing the narcoculture to expand business. And one might even wonder if there are not direct linkages to what has happened in Iguala-Ayotizanapa mass murdering of 44 students and the disappearance of nearly 25,000 people over the last five years in Mexico. Implications include our policies with immigration, NAFTA, and arms sales….

    5. Services provided to the US by Noriega: providing sanctuary for the Shah in 1979, hub for covert military actions (contras, El Salvador), spy planes-communications-training facilities, and offers to kill Sandanista leadership via dialogues with Ollie North p.307.

    6. When North was relieved of his duties and Casey died, the Senate moved to pass a resolution calling for Noriega’s immediate removal. The irony is that this about when Noriega tried to go straight with respect to drug trafficking p.308

    7. 1984 Panamanian elections (Nicholas Barletta, Noriega’s candidate) were funded in part by the Medellin Cartel and the CIA. Now by 1989, they wanted Noriega out, crying election fraud later on during October 1989 when Noriega pulled the strings to avoid losing power ($10 million in aid used to unseat him in clandestine radio and television broadcasts) p.309

    8. The Wimp factor (Bush orders superpower to crush one of the smallest armies on the hemisphere p.311)

    9. By Spring of 1991, the Colombian Drug Cartels and associates of Noriega had once again turned Panama into a drug trans-shipment center – drug trafficking/use expansion, and money laundering hotspot. p.313

    This history implicates several US Institutions, the CIA, the School of the Americas (notorious military training school for world dictators), Departments of State/Defense – Invasion US Foreign Policy, and the hidden relationships of power between bankers, drug traffickers, and political organizations in a world that had “defeated” communism. And the reasons as Yves states, borders on the ridiculous — keystone cops to global capital freedom fighters. It reminds me of a quote from an FDR speech during the height of the depression about the implications of our actions. He was talking about the oligarch bankers wrecking the economy. But I think it applies to Yves article here too about American Exceptionalism (especially given rise to our proclivity to torture, deny it, and then cover it up —- to rear its head again and again in a dangerous world): “Claiming paternity for one event means not denying paternity for (the) latter ones ”.

  6. CK

    I have a hard time believing that the outcome in Iraq wasn’t (and still today, isn’t) completely planned. what d all these smart people do if not create the results they are paid to create?

  7. dearieme

    It seems rather harsh to criticise Bush the Elder for a small war, competently executed, when he was followed by Clinton (bombing the old women of Serbia), Bush the Younger (wickedness in spades) and Obama (Bush the Younger, version 2).

    Anyway, shouldn’t one always reference this?

    1. diptherio

      All war-mongers deserve our enmity, however “small” or “competently executed” their crimes. Murder is murder and war, apart from being a racket, is also mass-murder. It is not “harsh” to criticize the leaders that command that the murder take place, regardless of how many other leaders have done likewise. You don’t seem to understand, in fact, what that word means. I would say that ordering the bombing of civilians is a good deal more “harsh” that criticizing someone for giving such an order. In fact, the supposed harshness of the criticism doesn’t even register, given the context.

    2. John Mc

      Rather harsh?

      Bush Sr. is a piece of work (OSS trained, Skull and Bones, former CIA director, Vice President, and President of the United States) linked to intelligence work with drug running cartels,oil emirates, money laundering and was in positions of power during some of our worst moments as a country. And in more recent periods, has been an executive for the Carlyle Group (the roster of which is a whos who of neoliberal wealth and power).

      And you know what they say about making money, it fits with war too: the first generation starts the wars, the second generation profits from them and third generation completely screws them up for everyone involved.

      First Gen Wars (Covert & Overt): Iran, Congo, Vietnam and Chile
      Second Gen Wars (Covert & Overt): Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Iraq
      Third Gen Wars (Covert, & Overt): Bosnia, Iraq II, Afghanistan/Pakistan/Syria, Honduras

      *** pardons to all of the conflicts that were left out….It really is keystone cops thinking….

  8. Sluggeaux

    “Europe had a nearly 100 year of peace, with only short-lived conflicts as punctuation.”

    I’m sure that the tens of thousands of Europeans killed in “short-lived” 19th Century conflicts like the Crimean War, the wars of German and Italian unification, and the Franco-Prussian War (which led to the bloody five-month Siege of Paris by the Prussian Army during the winter of 1870-71) are spinning in their mass graves. World War I may have been fought in the 20th Century, but it was the culmination of 19th Century conflicts — and of Prussian militarism, British imperialism, Austrian over-reach, and Russian imperial delusion.

    This lead-in detracts from Grandin’s excellent analysis of the use of unilateral “limited” wars by the House of Bush, and their war-profiteering cronies Halliburton Corp and the Carlyle Group, to line their pockets by sewing misery throughout the world.

    1. MarcoPolo

      The Peninsular wars, the Carlist wars… yada, yada, yada…. I had trouble getting past that first paragraph too.

  9. Jim Haygood

    With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Einaudi said, democracy had acquired the “force of historical necessity.”

    Now that we are the Soviets, it only makes sense that hegemonic democracy should be justified with neo-Marxist dialectic.

    Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in 1983 was a prototype for Bush’s hit in Panama in 1989.

    Not mentioned in Grandin’s essay is the fate of Manuel Noriega, Panama’s leader at the time of the US invasion. He was convicted on typical federal non-crimes such as ‘conspiracy’ and ‘money laundering,’ imprisoned in the US until 2007, and then in France until 2011.

    Twenty years on, former US collaborators with whom we’ve fallen out — such as Osama bin Ladin — are simply rubbed out, Mafia-style. Osama could have offered valuable testimony about one of the worst crimes in US history. That’s precisely why his co-conspirators wanted him dead.

  10. susan the other

    We’ve justified our international just causes unilaterally since Teddy R. The interesting thing about GHW Bush was how intent he was on overcoming the “Vietnam Syndrome.” As if that let him and his ilk be the masters of the floodgates into eternity. But the real mastery was the the little magic trick of language – that “people, not governments – are sovereign.” This is the same neoliberal interpretation we are fighting today. And it really is falling on its face. If we do not need the international community, then why is the Fed supporting all the EMs? Because the real-life transition is far trickier than the propaganda. The real life transition from national/political sovereignty to individual/financial sovereignty. In today’s chaos there are two possible solutions to the financial chaos: one is to go back to national sovereignty and live sane lives and the other is to allow money – not people – to govern the world. And immediately we see the fatal contradiction. Neither people nor governments are sovereign but a cabal of crazy murderous ideologues. But GHW Bush certainly did act with dispatch in 1989. Almost as if he wanted to be sure to control the dialog in order to turn democracy on its head. He had to act fast to rescue our great military dictatorship.

      1. susan the other

        Well then. Yes. And the photographer should have given them all diapers and powdered wigs. Hard to love contemporaries who have consistently fucked up for generations (3) and pretend like it’s just business s usual.

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