Wednesday, December 14, 2011

30 Days or Less

William Henry Harrison's laughably short term puts him in annals of historical trivia almost everyone knows. They may not know when he served, they may not know who succeeded him, they may not even know his name, but most people know that there was a president who died a month after taking office.
"Oooh, I'm pretty sure it was one of these guys."
Really, how much could happen in a month? Harrison's term wasn't really marked with any major events. It was mostly Harrison declaring an end to the Jacksonian way, icing out fellow Whig Henry Clay (who was trying to elbow his way into power) in favor of Daniel Webster, and him dying.

Not much can happen in a month.

However, Operation Just Cause lasted 23 days. And since it ties William Henry Harrison (by being shorter than his presidential term) and George H.W. Bush (by occurring during his presidential term) added with the bonus of us coming up on its 22nd anniversary, it might be time for a nice little history lesson.

This history lesson comes with a Van Halen music video for a song that has nothing to do with the country, other than they happen to share the same name.

The U.S. was just starting its rich history of sticking its nose into Central American affairs when President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to build a canal through the isthmus of Panama, but Columbia (who controlled the area at the time) wasn't game. A revolt was "coincidentally" incited, and Panama became an independent nation. The U.S. built the Panama Canal and held on to the area surrounding the canal, until President Jimmy Carter said, "You know what, we should totally give this back to you guys... eventually. The canal should remain neutral." And that's pretty much what the Carter-Torrijos Treaty said.

Starting in 1967, the CIA started working with Manuel Noriega. Noriega was trained intelligence and counterintelligence from the School of the Americas -- a happy little school in Georgia that teaches military techniques to U.S. allies in the Western Hemisphere, and is not at all controversial.

Noriega rose through the ranks and became the military dictator of Panama. The U.S. didn't really mind that he was a dictator, as long as he sided with the U.S. and thwarted the Soviets in other Central American countries (which he did). While he worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency to restrict drug shipments, he also used his protection granted by the CIA to launder money coming in from the drug dealers he was supposed to be restricting.

This kind of put the U.S. in a tough position, given our War on Drugs. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan put pressure on Noriega to knock it off and to step down. Noriega didn't, because why would he? In 1988, members of the Pentagon began pushing for an invasion of Panama. It seemed good on paper. The U.S. loved democracy and hated drugs. Here was this dictator aiding the drug trade. Why not get rid of him?
We'll give you a hint.
Well, because Reagan's vice president and former CIA director, George H.W. Bush, was running for president. And if the U.S. invaded Panama, voters would start to wonder why the U.S. was suddenly trying to get rid of a dictator who worked with the CIA. Maybe Bush would even have to answer how, as head of an agency that collected intelligence, he didn't know what Noriega was up to.

Instead, the Bush campaign glossed over this whole Noriega/drugs thing and told voters that his opponent, Michael Dukakis, would install revolving doors in America's prisons.

Bush won the election, and the Noriega problem went away. No, not really.

In May 1989, Panama held elections. When Noriega's opponent, Guillermo Endara, defeated the pro-Noriega Carlos Duque, Noriega supporters beat Endara up and Noriega declared the election null. There was a coup, but Noriega's regime survived.

In December of that year, an unarmed U.S. Marine was harassed by Panamanian troops. He tried to flee, but was fatally shot. Reports say that a few Americans who witnessed the event were arrested and assaulted while in custody. The Panamanian troops claimed that they were members of a group that tried to agitate the Noriega regime, while the U.S. said that such a group didn't exist.

On December 20, the U.S. invaded. Bush spelled out the reasoning was to: protect the 35,000 U.S. citizens living in Panama, to defend democracy and human rights, to combat drug trafficking and to protect the integrity of the Torrijos-Carter Treaty. It was believed that with Noriega in power, the Panama Canal would no lose neutrality.

Noriega surrendered on Jan. 3 and was taken to the United States. The operation ended Jan. 12.

Later that year, the U.S. went to fight the forces of another dictator who once was supported by the U.S.
This week's fight between George H.W. Bush and William Henry Harrison is significantly less complicated than this whole Panama deal. It's simple, vote on who would win and leave us comments.

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