Naivete on Display in Turning over the Panama Canal

Article excerpt

On Dec. 14, the Panama Canal was transferred ceremonially to the government of Panama, a photo-op both President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright curiously passed up.

The notion that the handover of the Panama Canal is of little concern because the canal has outlived its military and commercial usefulness is dangerously naive. Last year alone, about 13,200 ships passed through the canal. More than 15 percent of goods entering or leaving the United States pass through the canal, including 40 percent of U.S. grain exports.

As retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, points out, with a navy that has declined to barely more than 300 ships, the ability to transfer vessels and supplies from one ocean to another remains a vital imperative. He states: "If the United States doesn't have control of the canal in a war, the first thing we'd have to do is go down there and take it." He also notes: "I don't see how any reasonably intelligent person can fail to see the vital importance of the canal. The Chinese see it, obviously. …