One of the worst mistakes of Jimmy Carter's presidency was his insistence -- ratified by a spineless U.S. Senate -- on surrendering all U.S. control over the Panama Canal by 2000. So, on Dec. 31, a dangerous transfer of power occurs: The U.S. military (including important anti-drug smuggling units) leaves while Communist China assumes virtual control of the vital waterway.
Incredibly, Panama's own president admits his country can't defend the canal. But President Clinton -- like Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman -- says, "What me worry?" Even when Panama recently proposed joint U.S.-Panamanian patrols to protect the isthmus after 2000, the White House turned a deaf ear.
Former Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger sounds a clarion warning:
"The biggest threat to the canal is that in 1997 Panama granted a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. a 25-year concession to operate the canal's Atlantic and Pacific entrances at Balboa and Cristobal. (The U.S. claims the contract is improper because we entered a better bid, but nothing has been done about it.)
"Notes Prof. John Tierney of Boston University, Hutchison has close ties to Beijing and the People's Liberation Army. ... Hutchison has also acquired the right to lease (the old American) Rodman Naval Base and to transfer `contract rights' to other countries -- Cuba or Iraq, for example."
Clinton cares less about these national security implications, which leads Sen. Trent Lott, R.-Miss., to warn that "U.S. naval ships will be at the mercy of Chinese-controlled pilots and could even be denied passage through the canal by Hutchison." (Forty percent of U.S. grain exports pass through, along with hundreds of thousands of barrels of our oil.)
Just about everything opponents of the 1978 Canal giveaway said would happen, sad to say, is happening.