"The goals of the United States have been to safeguard the lives of Americans"US Presidential candidate John McCain has been among the most outspoken in voicing criticism of the Russian invasion of Georgia. Yet, of all US leaders, John McCain should know that there is nothing unusual about a superpower invading a satellite state and then claiming it had done so "in order to protect its own citizens" -- Russia's justification for the invasion of Georgia. After all, John McCain was born in Panama. And it probably would never have occurred to McCain to oppose the 1989 US invasion of his birthplace.- George H.W. Bush, 1989"My duty as President right from the outset was to protect our fellow citizens."- Dmitry Medvedev, 2008
In fact, the United States used a similar line of reasoning to Russia's when it invaded Panama in December 1989. Washington unabashedly called the war "Operation Just Cause." Although American interests in Panama are not nearly as longstanding as Russia's presence in Georgia, the United States has had close ties to Panama since construction of the canal began in 1904. John McCain is a product of that close relationship. In an important respect, the ties of the United States to Panama mirror those of Russia to Georgia. The common denominator? Both Panama and Georgia are valued as strategic global transportation links.
In 1989 the father of the current US president, H.W. Bush sounded like President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia would, nineteen years later. Let's remind ourselves of what each man said in attempt to justify the invasion of a small neighbor.
The justification for US invasion of Panama:
In his 20 December 1989 statement to the American people, US President H.W. Bush claimed that Panamanian President Manuel Noriega had threatened the lives of the approximately 35,000 US citizens living there. Following are the words with which H.W. Bush justified the invasion of Panama(transcript):
The justification for the Russian invasion of Georgia:
My fellow citizens, last night I ordered U.S. military forces to Panama. No President takes such action lightly. This morning I want to tell you what I did and why I did it.
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, General 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.
General Noriega's reckless threats and attacks upon Americans in Panama created an imminent danger to the 35,000 American citizens in Panama. As President, I have no higher obligation than to safeguard the lives of American citizens. And that is why I directed our Armed Forces to protect the lives of American citizens in Panama and to bring General Noriega to justice in the United States. [ . . .]
I am committed to strengthening our relationship with the democratic nations in this hemisphere. I will continue to seek solutions to the problems of this region through dialog and multilateral diplomacy. I took this action only after reaching the conclusion that every other avenue was closed and the lives of American citizens were in grave danger. [ . . .]
President Dmitry Medvedev explained that a top Russian justification for invading Georgia was protecting lives of Russian citizens. Here is a translation of Russian Federation President Medvedev words to Russian party leaders, delivered on August 11, 2008 (ISN):
Colleagues,Both Panama and Georgia lie within the respective historical "spheres of influence" of the superpowers.
Today’s meeting with the leaders of the parliamentary factions is taking place in extraordinary circumstances and is extremely important for us all. On the night of August 7-8, Georgia committed an act of military aggression directed primarily against the people of South Ossetia and the Russian peacekeeping brigade deployed in this region. They used heavy artillery, tanks, aviation and the regular army to literally wipe Tskhinvali, its homes, hospitals and schools, from the face of the Earth. Several thousand people have become victims of the ensuing humanitarian disaster, and a large number of them are our fellow citizens.
In just a few hours all of the agreements that existed at that point were made null and void, not to mention that all the basic principles of international law have been violated: the wounded have had no chance to get treatment and refugees have not had the possibility of evacuation. This is the tragic result of the unspeakable aggressive act that Georgia, the Georgian authorities, has committed...
. . . As I have said, my duty as President right from the outset was to protect our fellow citizens and not let the crimes committed against civilians and peacekeepers go unpunished. Russia wants to end this barbarity against the Ossetian people and against our citizens as soon as possible.
I repeat now what I said several days ago, namely that Russia has historically always been the guarantor of the security of the peoples of the Caucasus. This is our mission and our duty. We have never been just passive observers in this region and never will be.
We are doing everything within our power. Russia will not leave its fellow citizens in misfortune and will strive to normalise the situation.
Georgia and Panama resemble one another in several ways.
Comparing two satellite states
Panama and Georgia are eerily similar in respect to land area, population, and economic strength.
- land areas: 76,000 km² (Panama) Vs 70,000 km² (Georgia)
- population: 2,500,000 (Panama, 1992) Vs 4,600,000 (Georgia, 2006)
- per-capital income: $2,000 (Panama, 1992) $4,700 (Georgia, 2006)
The military conflicts
What similarities might be identified between the the US invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Russian-Georgian conflict 2008?
Although the number of the US invasion forces striking Panama --57,684 U.S. troops and over 300 aircraft --exceeded the acknowledged acknowledged size of Russia's Georgia invasion force -- 38,000 troops -- both superpowers suffered similar casualties.
- Panama: Americans lost 24 killed, 325 wounded
- Georgia: Russians lost 64 soldiers killed, 323 wounded
It is with regard to the objectives of the superpowers where one significant difference lies between the actions of the US almost twenty years ago in Panama and those of Russia in Georgia today. The US invasion of Panama overthrew the regime of Manuel Noriega. But Russia has not, at least as of this date, overthrown the government of Georgia, nor has it proclaimed any intention to do so.
It is no small irony that among the loudest voices opposing Russia's recent military actions in the Caucasus is John McCain, the Panamanian candidate.
Other sources: Wikipedia South Ossetia War, Wiki Georgia, Wiki Panama, Wiki US Invasion of Panama. Top photo shows McCain's father and grandfather at the US naval base in Panama.