Thursday, December 07, 2006

Red alert

Don't look now, but the United States is missing out on a chance to do what it does best: feel good about itself by crushing a helpless little country in its own back yard.

Last month, while Americans were distracted by their own election results, the people of Nicaragua quietly re-elected Daniel Ortega president. Back in the 1980s when his Sandinistas first came to power (also by being democratically elected), they posed such a dire threat to our freedom that the Reagan Administration flouted Congress and proceeded with what became known by the shorthand term Iran-contra. That is, they sold weapons to Iran - yes, that Iran -- to raise money for a group of Nicaraguan terrorists (or were they freedom fighters?) known as contras. Had they not done so, they assured us, these dangerous revolutionaries would have landed in Texas -- I believe Harlingen was the designated invasion site -- and proceeded to...well, it was never very clear. Far from praising the administration for its initiative, Congress was outraged. Hearings were held. Reagan himself was forced to testify under oath, which required him to pretend he knew nothing about the operation (or was he pretending?). Plucky Oliver North, commander of the Lying Leathernecks, was actually convicted of perjury, and only a Reagan-appointed appellate judge delivered him from prison and onto the payroll of Rupert Murdoch. Dark days, my friends. The Sandinistas were indeed overthrown, when the Nicaraguans voted them out of office, but it was a narrow escape.

Taking no chances, the first Bush Administration identified Manuel Noriega as yet another dark cloud on our horizon. Noriega was no leftist; some whispered that he was a CIA "asset" set up in the drug busi-- I mean, recruited -- by Director Bush himself. Something about a falling out among crooks? Anyway, since the Panamanians wouldn't turn him out, we had to. The war on Panama was a textbook example of post-Vietnam American militarism: state-of-the-art weaponry unleashed on urban slum-dwellers, send in the Marines, bad-guy president kidnapped, mission accomplished, victory parade. Then it was on to another murky but short war for the freedom-loving people of Kuwait, who needed to be rescued from Saddam Hussein ("worse than Hitler," Poppy assured us). More victory parades, delirious approval ratings. No second term, though; apparently, it was the economy, stupid.

So the Sandinistas are back in Managua, with no ties to the extinct Evil Empire and minimal support from the impoverished and moribund Castro regime. This time, however, they are only one of many left-leaning governments in Latin America, including Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay and (according to many outraged Mexicans) Mexico. In normal times, the US would be alternating between military threats and barely covert support for death squads and right-wing exiles. But with our military stretched to the breaking point and Iraq way past civil war and headed for anarchy, Bush the Slightly Lesser is missing his chance to stiffen Republican groin gristle with a short, nasty war. A war he could actually win. A war drenched with nostalgia for San Juan Hill, Santo Domingo, Death to Pancho Villa, and all our other lovely adventures south of the border. The kind of war Gen. Smedley Butler was talking about when he called himself and his beloved Marine Corps "gangsters" for American commercial interests.

And that's my recommended daily allowance of irony, thank you.

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