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The Washington Times has, over the years, done a good job of
presenting news and commentary ignored or undermined by most of the
But recently even the Times has published a series of articles
concerning the United States and Panama which leave much to be desired.
In 1977 and 1978, I organized rallies, press conferences and
volunteer briefings in all 50 states, as part of a nationwide campaign
by the Conservative Caucus and other groups to defeat the Jimmy
Carter-Howard Baker Panama Canal treaties.
We fell short in the Senate 68-32, but helped assure that 29 of those
who voted to ratify those unwise treaties were retired from the U.S.
Senate when it convened in January 1981.
In a letter to the editor of the Times on Jan. 13, 1999, I said:
“Your Panama series has been a disappointment in at least two ways.
“One, as suggested by the headline, ‘Canal no longer crucial to
national security,’ you fail to convey a fact-based sense of urgency
about the on-going strategic significance of the assets we are
“Second, your series fails to point out that it is not too late for
“The real issue is not ‘Who manages the Canal?’ but rather, ‘Who
controls the isthmus?’ Panama is, in effect, the ‘belt buckle’ of the
Western Hemisphere from which the United States has been able to project
power in defense of its vital interests from the Arctic Circle to
Antarctica, and in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
“While you did point out the unique value of the Jungle Operation
Training Base — which is topographically and climatologically
irreplaceable — your writers neglected to emphasize the important
intelligence-gathering activities which have been based in Panama with
respect to naval activity in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
“The particular loss concerns naval intelligence below the surface
and information acquisition above. Our military presence in Panama has
permitted us to monitor, control, and outflank hostile activity in
Central America and throughout the Caribbean.
“And, of course, without U.S. troops on the ground, our ability to
prevent a terrorist attack on the Canal could result in our naval
vessels being divested of the ability to rapidly transit vessels in
wartime between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
“Most serious is the possibility that the vacuum we are creating will
be filled by a hostile power.
“Most of your readers are old enough to remember the Cuban missile
crisis of 1962 involving a Soviet nuclear presence in Cuba. Currently,
the Clinton administration has permitted a Hong Kong company closely
linked to the People’s Liberation Army of Red China to gain control of
the ports at both ends of the Canal.
“As Chinese influence waxes in Panama, and that of the United States
wanes, there is the distinct possibility that, within a decade, Red
China could threaten the United States from a position of strength
“Fortunately, much can be done, even at this late date. As you did
point out, the overwhelming sentiment in Panama is for the United States
to remain. Elections for a new government will occur in May. Even
though that government will not take office until September, there is a
strong possibility that the United States can negotiate a
reconsideration of our withdrawal.
“In anticipation of that possibility, we should immediately
discontinue the premature removal of our forces and the turnover of our
It is not too late to safeguard America’s vital interests at Panama.
If you agree, please contact U.S. Senator John Warner, R-VA, the new
chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee — by e-mail,
phone 202-224-2023, fax 202-224-6295, or
postal delivery 225 Senate Russell Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 —
and ask him to provide time for me and other representatives of the
Conservative Caucus to brief him on the issue and offer actual
recommendations for his consideration. Please send me a copy of your
Howard Phillips is chairman of the Conservative Caucus, 450 Maple
Avenue East, Vienna, Virginia 22180.