Who has been more aggressive, George H.W. Bush in Panama or Vladimir Putin in Crimea? Who has been more aggressive, the U.S. in its actions against Noriega or Russia with respect to Crimea?
These two situations differ but they are comparable in important respects. The U.S. launched a full-scale invasion of Panama. Russia, whatever it did in Crimea, it didn’t launch a full-scale invasion. The U.S. was trying to get rid of Noriega for some years. Russia had not been trying to annex Crimea. It acted in response to Ukraine events in a region it deemed very important just as the U.S. acted in a region it deemed important for reasons of its own. What were they? I won’t go into the detail this invasion deserves. Let’s see what George H.W. Bush’s invasion message said.
“For nearly two years, the United States, nations of Latin America and the Caribbean have worked together to resolve the crisis in Panama. The goals of the United States have been to safeguard the lives of Americans, to defend democracy in Panama, to combat drug trafficking and to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal Treaty. Many attempts have been made to resolve this crisis through diplomacy and negotiations. All were rejected by the dictator of Panama, Gen. Manuel Noriega, an indicted drug trafficker. Last Friday, Noriega declared his military dictatorship to be in a state of war with the United States and publicly threatened the lives of Americans in Panama. The very next day forces under his command shot and killed an unarmed American serviceman, wounded another, arrested and brutally beat a third American serviceman and then brutally interrogated his wife, threatening her with sexual abuse. That was enough.”
The Russians have made the claim too of safeguarding Russians as well as their bases. They too have made the claim of safeguarding democracy and there has been a vote to back that claim up. No drug trafficking is involved in Crimea, but that was a poor excuse for Bush to have used anyway. Russia has made the claim that the coup in Ukraine introduced a rogue government just as the U.S. made claims against Noriega. Bush mentioned the failure of negotiations. Whatever they were or weren’t or how they were handled, let’s note that the Ukrainian government had reached an agreement on Feb. 21 that was soon broken by violent mob activity. This was in Ukraine, not Crimea, but there is a political link and it does provide Russia with a parallel rationale that it has used.
These comparisons suggest, at a minimum and understating the case, that the Russians have not behaved in a way that differs that much from how the U.S. has behaved. But in fact the Russian actions have been much milder. There has been no big invasion. A vote was held. The Russians had standing treaty rights in Crimea.
Bush also claimed that Noriega declared war against the U.S. This claim inverted the truth. Noriega said that the U.S. had declared war on Panama. See author Theodore H. Draper’s work on that claim. I quote Draper:
“As I have now learned, Bush’s statement was, at best, a half-truth, at worst a flagrant distortion. On December 15, Noriega had not simply declared war on the United States. He said, in effect, that the United States had declared war on Panama, and that, therefore, Panama was in a state of war with the United States. Just what Noriega said was known or available in Washington by December 16 at the latest. How Noriega’s words came across as a simple declaration of war is a case history of official management of the news and negligence by the press.
“The key passage in Noriega’s speech on December 15 accused the President of the United States of having ‘invoked the powers of war against Panama’ and ‘through constant psychological and military harassment of having created a state of war in Panama, daily insulting our sovereignty and territorial integrity.’ He appealed for ‘a common front to respond to the aggression,’ and stressed ‘the urgency to unite as one to fight against the aggressor.’
“The resolution on December 15 by the Panama Assembly also took this line—’To declare the Republic of Panama in a state of war for the duration of the aggression unleashed against the Panamanian people by the US Government.’”
This war item may appear to digress from the comparison because the Crimean situation doesn’t involve antagonism between Russia and Crimea, whereas the Panama-U.S. situation did. Its relevance is that the U.S. went considerably further militarily in Panama than Russia did in Crimea, using a false and exaggerated claim as an important reason.
Let us reach a conclusion. If the U.S. could launch a large-scale aggression against the government of Panama for some reasons similar to those invoked by Russia (protection of citizens and democracy) and for one unjustifiable reason (drugs), and also with a lie or half-truth (Noriega unilaterally declaring war on the U.S.), then do not the Russian actions in Crimea, where it has treaty rights for bases and military personnel and where it has a longstanding interest in an adjacent strategic region, appear not to be anything excessive as such things go and far milder than the U.S. action in Panama? This seems to be an inescapable conclusion.
If Russia is the big bad bogeyman in Crimea, what was the U.S. in Panama in 1989? If the U.S. claimed noble aims and getting rid of a criminal in Panama’s government, how far different are the Russian claims that the Crimeans have a right to dissociate from a criminal gang in Kiev and to do so by a peaceful vote? Whose actions are milder, those of the Russians in Crimea or those of the U.S. in Panama? Whose actions are more aggressive, those of the Russians in Crimea or those of the U.S. in Panama? It may be that the Russians will invade Ukraine itself, in which case they will be open to much greater and more severe criticism. For the moment, we are addressing Crimea.
There is a difference between Panama and Crimea in that Crimea has voted to join the Russian Federation whereas Panama was a separate country and remains so. However, the U.S., having once invaded the country, obviously has reserved its option, by violence if necessary, to make and unmake Panama’s government at its will and according to its interests.
Seen against this comparison, the statements being made by top U.S. officials or former officials like Hillary Clinton, that Putin is a new Hitler, are wild exaggerations. If Russia has violated international law through its activities surrounding the Crimean vote, as the warmongers in the U.S. shout, how much more did Bush’s invasion of Panama violate international law? And, by the way, how could Bush invade Panama and then inform Congress when it is Congress that must declare war? And how could Bush invade Panama without a U.N. Security Council Resolution authorizing it? This U.S. invasion was not even a case of applying the already-expansive Monroe Doctrine, for there was no foreign force invading this hemisphere.
I have not explained why Bush invaded Panama or why the U.S. was so concerned about Noriega in the years preceding that invasion. I have limited the discussion to one question, which is this. Who has been more aggressive, George H.W. Bush in Panama or Vladimir Putin in Crimea? I think it’s evident that Bush was far more aggressive.
Before too many U.S. officials get too upset over Putin, before they absorb too much of the neocon warmongering nonsense and exaggerations, before they lead the U.S. into dangerous confrontations for which there is no need, before they shock the world’s economy with armed confrontations, it would pay them on behalf of Americans in this land to study their own history as well as that of Russia and to gain some much needed perspective so that they can behave with at least some degree of maturity and statesman-like wisdom.
The time is long past for those in Washington and throughout this land who understand and despise the neocon ideas to stand up against them and marginalize them. The neocons should be viewed, not as a constraint on appropriate political actions and responses, but as a spent moral force lacking in moral standing that has been wrong time and again in recommending actions that supposedly benefitted Americans but in reality have dragged this country further and further down.
Remaking the world, freeing peoples, playing global saviour, acting as the world’s policeman, and attempting to be the world’s conscience have all got to be seen as bad and wrong for any state. States cannot do any of these things without becoming monsters of power who are creatures of their own interests and their own bureaucracies who oppress the people they rule. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Syria should all attest to that. Even the Vietnam War should attest to that.
A state that has the power to do supposedly good things will invariably have the power to do very bad things, and it will. This is both basic human nature and the basic outcome of bureaucratic governments. Power corrupts. Of equal importance is that any such state will consist of bureaucracies that do the actual ruling, and they become self-perpetuating and separated from the interests of the people for whom they are supposedly doing good. Instead, they become unjust, out for themselves, corrupt, slow to act, inconsistent in their actions, and impervious to accountability.
The basic neocon idea is that of an expanding U.S. hegemony according to U.S. political ideas and blueprints. The idea is a monopoly of power, a superpower. This is the basic idea of empire, and it is both bad and wrong, practically and morally. A monopoly on power is the wrong way to strive for the good. The good needs to be constantly discovered and re-discovered at a decentralized level, within each person’s mind and conscience. A person’s own life and willing associations with others provide more than ample scope for challenging a person to figure out what is good and bad as well as what is right and wrong. No one person and certainly no one powerful state knows the good or can achieve it. The good is not provided in any blueprint. It is always a work in progress, dependent on local and individual details and conditions that are unknown to state powers. The attempts by states to achieve the abstract good must fail. They are going against the nature of the human condition.
America has a very serious problem, which is that both parties stand for the empire and the neocon ideas are very much tied in with the ideas that ground the empire. Right now, the empire is viewed by far too many people as good and right. As long as those who might separate themselves from neocon ideas and criticize them strenuously remain locked in support of the empire and/or reluctant to take issue with it, both parties are going to be tools of neocon thinking.