With the clock winding down to the legislated date before which the
Panama Canal cannot be turned over to Panama, let us take a good, hard look
at the situation there. For, up until now, we have heard little that is true
about it. In the light of harsh reality, looking back over nearly a century,
we can no longer duck the inescapable conclusion that we have managed to
muck up what should have been a magnificent example to the entire world of
how our engineering genius, medical know-how, and political savvy could be
brought together for the betterment of mankind. We sought to create a
transportation link such as the world had never seen – and we did. We sought
to encourage a people to free themselves and create their own republic just
as we had done – and they did.

But now the magnificently machined gates are cracking – and we are told
that all is going well. The wonderfully engineered anti-terrorist system
that we built to protect the Canal at the time of World War II, with steel
coffer dams that are to come up by the force of hydraulics from the floor of
the waterway to save the outflow of water from Gatun Lake should its holding
dam be blown up, is inoperable. The hydraulic fluid has been sold on the
black market – and we are told that terrorism is no problem. The maintenance
has deteriorated to where the Canal, without dramatic reversals of the
present trends, will be itself inoperable within a very few years, with
refurbishment cycles for keeping the locks inactive during overhaul and
upkeep having been reduced from 90 to 3 days. Yet we have just been told in
testimony that the Canal is running like it always did. We should no longer
be surprised at the prevarication – only that anyone with an ounce of sense
believes these falsehoods.

As we face the end of 1999 we see a Y2K problem that in a very real sense
is more threatening to our strategic and commercial and industrial dominance
than the one that is inspiring all the books and talk shows about chips and
computers failing. Make no mistake about it, you are not being told the
truth by this president, nor by those who serve him and those in Panama who
have joined in the game of misleading the public in both countries. Absent
some dramatic action, the Canal at Panama will not only effectively be in
foreign hands other than those of the Panamanians at the end of December, it
will be in a condition that the Panamanians themselves, without a larger,
more powerful and wealthier third country taking at least joint control,
will not have the capacity to deal with. We will have lost control of the
most vital link in our forward-deployed strategic shield, a link that has
also been the key to our rise to commercial dominance in the world.

The loss to the Panamanians of their autonomy and their nationhood will
inevitably follow our departure in short order. A recent editorial cartoon
in one of the Panamanian papers shows this truth with bitter humor: A U.S.
soldier is marching out, but a Colombian solder is marching in right behind
him. Even if, by some miracle, Panama should escape such an
anschluss by Colombia, Panama would be forced into the hands of a
larger and wealthier country by the simple need for a partner who can bring
to the table the wealth and engineering know-how necessary to salvage the
situation when, the Canal turned over, the truth has to be faced at last.

Of course, the Panamanians responsible for the lies and the corruption
have U.S. passports, and they are putting the money which they are receiving
for enabling this disaster to come to pass in foreign banks, so they’ll be
just fine. It’s their country and its people, particularly the middle class
and the poor, who will suffer the inevitable consequences.

As one who has spoken out truthfully on this issue for over 20 years,
including testifying before Congress, writing articles, and appearing on
numerous broadcasts, I can find no excuse for the failure of our mainstream
press outlets, the White House, and even at times some of the congressional
leadership to make the truth available to the American people about what is
going on in Panama. On the other hand, those in Congress who have shown true
leadership and honor in this matter have seen their efforts bottled up in
the interest, it appears, of getting what is perhaps the greatest mistake
and most foolishly isolationist act in the history of our nation’s
international relations “over with” before the broad American electorate
takes full note of the betrayal that is going on.

In 1977, when I gave up my military career, which I cherished greatly,
because I could not, in honor and conscience, support what I have stressed
were and are “bad contracts with bad people,” I was the head of the
Inter-American Defense Board and had been working for several years on new
treaties that would have had the opposite effect, strengthening rather than
abandoning our ties to Panama. Foolishly, President Carter and his allies
such as Ambassador Sol Linowitz rushed in to give the Canal away at any
cost, paying 10 times the value to Panama to get rid of our greatest
international trade and strategic asset outside our immediate borders. The
American people responded by electing President Reagan, who stood against
the foolish giveaway of this key to our industrial prosperity and our
forward-deployed shield of security.

The Canal giveaway figured prominently in that election, I know, because
I was involved. The people of both the United States and Panama at that
time, as they do today, knew that our abandonment of the Canal and Panama
was a bad idea. Unfortunately, this president chooses a path of withdrawal
and isolationism (just as Carter did at the time) even as he accuses others
of being isolationist. Too many in Congress have followed this isolationist
path also, even as they speak of the need to interact with the rest of the
world in trade. They speak of increasing world trade while surrendering our
key to playing a dominant role in it. It appears that they want greatly
increased international trade provided that our own role in it is
diminished and we use all our resources to assure that nations such as
communist China will take over our role of leadership in maritime, and,
ultimately in strategic dominance — first in the Pacific, and then,
inevitably, elsewhere.

The dislike by both Carter then and Clinton now of our nation having a
strong and powerful military spreading our own benign influence in the
world — coupled with their efforts to promote international trade so as to
decrease our relative participation compared to countries with systems
antithetical to our own and based, in the case of communist China, on
totalitarian enslavement and the dishonoring of contracts at the whim of the
state — has in it an element of contempt for our founding vision that is

Jimmy Carter spoke of our peoples’ “malaise.” President Clinton has
demonstrated his contempt for our constitutional system and made clear his
desire to “break” our military and those whom he calls the “religious right”
who cherish our founding values. Jimmy Carter impulsively gave away the
Panama Canal to please a few wealthy friends and appease his guilt at being
part of the society he deemed ridden with that “malaise.” President Clinton
has short-circuited the illusion that the Canal was being returned to Panama
by making every effort to see that the Chinese communists were not exposed
as being in position to take it over, particularly through former Ambassador
Hughes in the Helms hearings last year and through his allies in the Senate
and elsewhere who were in charge of the donations to his political campaigns
at the crucial times of the Chinese obtaining their tool of dominance in the
notoriously corrupt efforts in 1996, leading to the passage of Panama’s law
No. 5 of early 1997.

The present reality is that we are bringing to an ignominious end our
engagement with Panama and the Panamanians that created the vital link in a
strategic shield which, since 1914, has kept hostile forces far from our
shores and provided at the same time the commercial link which enabled us to
rise to dominance in the world. We are now handing that link over to those
who would destroy both our strategic and our commercial dominance if they
could, whether it be the narcotrafficantes driven by the criminal
greed for dollars and destructive power, their allies of the Fuerzas
Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia
, and similar Marxist groups, such as
Peru’s Shining Path. There is also China to worry about now — its
government presenting a smiling face but increasing everyday both its
repression at home and its expansionist drive across the Pacific.

Viewed from the perspective of the century, we are beating a humiliating
political retreat with strategic overtones that could not be more ominous.
Our enemies in this multi-polar world (and the American people are not
deceived as to who they are, despite the blandishments of many in our
leadership who would misrepresent to the contrary) are ecstatic as they see
a wide array of opportunities to do mischief being given to them, and our
friends are incredulous that we Americans are so inept and clumsy in dealing
with a situation that should have been a slam dunk for a “superpower.” They
will now have to resort to revising and controlling history to hide the
truth of this betrayal of our national interests, a task at which they have
already been busily engaged, including calling others what they are —
isolationists — and using outlets such as the Washington Post as organs of
obedient propaganda. In the process, they not only betray this country, they
also betray the people of Panama, who are the perfect example of the peoples
of the world they profess to want so much to help.

Consider Panama, as its people fall under the yoke of the
narcoterrorists, the drug lords, and the Chinese communists in league with
the corrupt leaders who are so willing to sell them out to these invaders of
their nation founded with so much hope to be in our image. Then consider the
corruption of President Clinton, who has reduced our White House to no more
than the palaces of the juntas of Latin America with his cult of personality
and his willingness to attack and ride roughshod over his opponents at the
cost of civility and the Constitution. As the problem unfolds consider again
whether character matters and whether the penchant for not telling the truth
in a president’s personal life does not also affect our relationships with
our immediate neighbors in this hemisphere.

Above all, do not be fooled: We are not giving the Panama Canal back to
the Panamanians; we are not even giving Panama back to the Panamanians.
Unless the lawsuit, which our group U.S. Defense – American Victory is
backing on behalf of the Panamanian-American Bill Marine succeeds and we can
enjoin this final destructive act, we are in fact giving up America’s
leading role in the world for the sake of misplaced guilt, the payoff of a
bunch of bank loans, and a handful of campaign silver. To cover up this mess
the liars will have to keep on lying, and they will prove too late that
lying in a president is not just a personal matter. But Clinton and Carter
are not alone in having betrayed us. Many others have joined in — too many
to make any solution other than one fashioned in court applicable in time.

However, should we be able to enjoin the final shameful act of this
betrayal and stop the turnover of the Canal itself, then it is now evident
that there are those in Congress who would rally the nation to save not only
our strategic and industrial-maritime role in the world, but also the people
of Panama, who deserve better than to be thrown into the hands of the drug
traffickers and the butchers of Tienanmen.

Lt. Gen. Gordon Sumner Jr. (USA Ret.),
at the time of the Panama Canal treaties, was the head of the Inter-American
Defense Board as the American military officer assigned to that strategic
post. After resigning, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to be our
ambassador-at-large to Latin America, a post in which he served during the 8
years of the Reagan presidency. Currently he is head of Latin American and
Pacific Affairs for U.S. Defense – American Victory in Washington, D.C.

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