the last major Commies on earth, albeit in name only, the
Chinese have taken the place of the Soviets in right-wing
demonology: what "the Kremlin" conjured in the conservative
imagination, circa 1964, has now been replaced by "Beijing"
or, "the butchers of Beijing," if you're
into alliteration. But in a post-Communist world, with no
credible military threat to the U.S., the effect of the old
hyperbole is more comedic than dramatic, as was underscored
in the headline of an Associated Press story on the controversy:
"Weinberger Says China Eyes Panama."
But of course why didn't I think of that? It's
a perfectly obvious connection to make: after all, Beijing
is less than 3,000 miles away from Panama City. Never mind
all that speculation about a possible Chinese invasion of
Taiwan that's just a feint. The real plan of
the People's Liberation Army is not to cross the Straits of
Taiwan, but to hop, skip, and jump clear across the Pacific
Ocean and take the Panama Canal. Pretty diabolical, eh?
is quoted as saying that it would be "illogical"
for China to "pass up a chance to acquire a major foothold
in one of the world's three major choke points especially
if it can be done with little cost and no risk." The
Associated Press story from which this quote is taken, while
identifying the canal as one of the chokepoints, did not enlighten
us on the other two. But no matter: the point is that, if
the world is going to have chokepoints, Washington's hands
must be clasped firmly around them. And that about sums up
the Weinberger Doctrine for the post-cold war world
we must grab the whole world by its collective throat.
and his cohorts on the neoconservative right are up in arms
over the fact that the restoration of Panamanian sovereignty
coincides with the privatization of the canal's management
and the contract has been awarded to the Hong
Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, Ltd., which will manage
the ports at both ends of the canal. An Alabama-based company,
which lost out to Hutchison, complains that the Panamanians
treated them unfairly, and "tilted" the rules to
discriminate against them; Republican politicians (and even,
sadly, Pat Buchanan) have used the Hong Kong connection to
push one of the most ludicrous theories ever cooked up anywhere:
that the Chinese are engaged in an elaborate ruse to somehow
"subvert" not only the canal but all of Central
and South America!
the perfervid fantasies of the Hate China crowd collide with
reality, the result is uproarious: witness the exasperated
reaction of John Meridith, Hutchison Whampoa's managing director,
who declared to the Washington Post from his London
office that the campaign linking his company to the Chinese
military is "driving me completely nuts." In that
case, poor Meridith will have much in common with his accusers.
For the mundane reality of Hutchison's Panamanian operation
is that, out of 500 employees, a grand total of zero
are Chinese: 97 percent are Panamanian. So much for the Yellow
Peril raising its head in Central America. "We are a
commercial enterprise that is accountable to our stockholders,''
Mr. Meredith protested, but the normally pro-business conservatives
weren't about to let facts get in the way of ideology: committed
to the Yellow Peril in the Americas thesis, otherwise reasonable
people are now convinced that it won't be long before Red
Chinese are pouring over the Rio Grande and infiltrating the
CHINESE TAKE-OUT CONSPIRACY
about it: no matter how gastronomically challenged your little
one-horse town may be, it is sure to have Chinese take-out.
Now just why do you suppose that is?
is pathetic to realize that some Republican politicians have
jumped on this ludicrous bandwagon, along with some right-wing
pundits: not surprisingly, the Washington Times, the
voice of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, is leading the journalistic
pack. This eye-rolling performance is yet more proof
if any were needed that the conservative wing of the
Republican Party has a real knack for setting itself up for
defeat. Whoever asked the President at his recent press conference
about the Hutchison Whampoa brouhaha did the White House a
big favor. For it gave Clinton the opportunity to shoot down
his opponents with a simple recitation of the facts. Hutchison
Whampoa, Clinton patiently explained, was granted the concession
to unload cargo from ships in port: "They also do this
in three or four ports in Great Britain. It's one of the biggest
companies in the world that does this. The managing director
is British. Most of the employees will be Panamanian."
CONQUEST OF GREAT BRITAIN BY CHINA
Britain in imminent danger of a Chinese Communist takeover?
From what Anthony
Lewis has to say about Tony Blair's civil liberties record,
that would seem redundant.
I TO BE SPARED NOTHING? APPARENTLY NOT
idea of a Chinese plot to take over the Panama Canal is not
a subject that I would normally deal with in this column:
the theory, on its face, is far too improbable to take seriously,
no matter how many people believe it. I determined not
to write about it, and dismissed it from my mind, in spite
of the outcry on the right on the general theory that
I have the right to spare myself something until
the other day, when I came across a posting on Freerepublic.com
announcing that none other than Rep.
Ron Paul (R-Texas) had introduced legislation to block the
transfer of the canal!
How could a man who has been the most steadfast congressional
noninterventionist of all times, an intelligent man, and,
most of all, a great friend and supporter of the late Prof.
Murray N. Rothbard, fall for such arrant nonsense as the Weinberger-Yellow
Peril in the Americas scenario? Good lord, I thought,
my heart sinking, I guess I'll have to write about this after
Paul not only swallows the serio-comic argument that a Hong
Kong-based company is necessarily a "security risk"
to the United States in which case, most of San Francisco
is now owned outright by the "Red" Chinese
but his resolution calls for the reassertion of US sovereignty
over the Canal Zone. Calling the legality of the 1977 treaty
into question, and citing "a cost of approximately $439
million, and another $450 million" spent on maintenance
annually, Paul even goes on to claim that the loss of "more
than 5,000 lives" during "the American era of construction
of the Panama Canal" gives us the right to raise the
Stars & Stripes.
DIPLOMACY: A CLASSIC CASE
anyone familiar with the history of Panama, the story of how
the country came into being and the canal came to be built
is a classic example of gunboat diplomacy in action. Formerly
a part of Colombia, and with no real regional, ethnic, religious,
or cultural differences from the rest of the country, the
only aspect of Panama that was at all distinctive was that
it included the narrowest section of the Central American
isthmus and thus the logical site for a canal. The
concession to build such a canal had been granted to a French
company by the Colombian government, which proved not up to
the task, and went bankrupt. The U.S. government offered to
pay the French Panama Canal Company $40 million for the concession,
but the Colombian government stepped in and demanded its cut:
$10 million. President Teddy Roosevelt went ballistic, and
declared that this was an attempted "holdup." But
the fact is that the $10 million to Colombia would have come
out of the $40 million destined for the French company. TR
then engineered a phony "revolution," directed from
Washington and carried out by employees of the American-owned
railroads; American warships prevented the Colombian government
from taking effective action to put down the "revolution."
it turned out, after the "revolution," $40 million
(shelled out by U.S. taxpayers) flowed into the coffers of
the French company: except it wasn't French anymore. As Murray
N. Rothbard pointed out in the December 5, 1977 issue of Inquiry,
the now defunct weekly put out by the Cato Institute:
shares had been secretly bought u shortly before by a syndicate
of Wall Street bankers, headed by J. P. Morgan and Company.
The syndicate hired the eminent Wall Street lawyer, William
Nelson Cromwell, to get the American money, and it was Cromwell,
sitting in the White House itself, who wrote TR's dispatches
and orders, and engineered the entire operation. After the
syndicate got the $40 million, they were able to sell their
shares to the U.S. government for twice what they had paid."
IN THE FAMILY
chief beneficiary of this largess was Teddy Roosevelt's brother-in-law,
Douglas E. Robinson, a member of the new syndicate that now
owned the formerly "French" Panama Canal Company.
Aside from falling directly in Robinson's pocket, the bulk
of the $40 million shelled out by American taxpayers flowed
into Robinson's New York real estate firm.
STOLE IT FAIR AND SQUARE"
the debate over the 1977 treaty, Senator S. I. Hayakawa declared
of the Canal Zone that "we stole it fair and square."
The idiosyncratic Republican Senator from California was known
for his cryptic aphorisms and his enthusiasm for General Semantics,
as well as for having famously been caught napping during
Senate sessions and all these factors may have contributed
to this oddly counterintuitive sound-bite. Hayakawa's remark
aptly sums up the general consensus of the "save the
Panama Canal" crowd, as least as it applies to outright
militarists such as Weinberger and the neoconservative worshippers
at the altar of Morgan tool Teddy Roosevelt. But surely this
sordid history is enough to make a staunch libertarian, such
as Ron Paul, think twice about his resolution. The money paid
out for the maintenance of the Canal Zone, including the costs
of stationing troops and public administration, was a subsidy
to the big New York banks that benefited from the creation
of the "republic" of Panama to begin with. If the
U.S. government is looking for reimbursement of its substantial
investment, then why not look to the financial interests who
reaped enormous profits from U.S. intervention?
am, frankly, shocked that Paul would raise the question of
the lives lost during the building of the Canal: given the
history of the Canal Company, and the fact that the whole
project was made possible by US government action (in the
form of military action) and subsidies (in the form of the
bailout of the "French" company), just who is responsible
for those deaths? Just ask yourself who profited from
these deaths, and you have the answer to this question.
OLD STORY, MADE NEW
story of what happened to Panama is not new: we see it, today,
being reenacted in the Caucasus, as the oil companies and
their political flunkies grow fat on US government subsidies:
yesterday it was the Panama Canal, today it is the Transcaucasian
oil pipeline, recently announced at the Istanbul OSCE conference.
The basic strategy of the big banks and other investors, hungry
for government-guaranteed profits, has not altered one iota.
First, create instability, perhaps a secessionist movement
that will succeed with a little help from its overseas
"friends" in setting up a "republic."
They used to call them "banana republics," but now
that the focus has shifted to the steppes of Central Asia
they are calling them "Islamic republics"
but, no matter. It is all the same thing.
THE BIG STICK
tiny "republic" in the middle of Central Asia, totally
dependent on oil wealth for state revenues, and linked to
the big oil companies and their subsidiaries and dependents
economically and politically this is the vision of
the transnationals and they are working day and night to achieve
it. Georgia, Azerbaijan, and several other Caucasian "nations"
that litter the landscape of what had been the southern frontier
of the old Russian empire all are potential Panamas,
eagerly awaiting infusions of U.S. tax dollars. It is a vision
that, rhetoric about "democracy" and "human
rights" aside, has been unchanged since 1903, when Teddy's
big stick swung into action in Panama. Ron Paul has long been
one of my heroes, and I wouldn't bother singling him out if
I didn't know that we share the same dedication to peace,
liberty, and the foreign policy of the Founders. As noninterventionists,
not a few of them conservatives, oppose the new policy of
gunboat diplomacy in which the U.S. purports to defend its alleged
"interests" around the world, it behooves them to
remember the lessons of history but first they have
to get their facts straight.