Shortly after the election of 1988 one grand old man ofnthe Republican Party told me he thought Mr. Bushncould do a creditable job so long as his administration facednno major crises. The very minor crisis of the abortive coup innPanama was the first serious test of this thesis, and it wouldnseem, at first glance, that the thesis passed and George Bushnflunked. Republicans and Democrats alike, liberals as well asnconservatives, excoriated the President for his failure to seizenthe opportunity of ridding the worid of a petty drug-dealingndespot who had proved impervious to the charm and threatsnof Elliott Abrams. Congressional Democrats, in describingnthe administration’s sluggish response to events, revived anfavorite term from the Reagan years: disarray, and The WallnStreet Journal called the affair another Bay of Pigs.nThere could be no more entertaining and edifyingnspectacle on the evening news than the sight of ManuelnNoriega hanging upside down from a window in PanamanCity, but the same thing might be said of at least a dozennother leaders of our “sister republics” in Latin America.nNoriega is no more of a threat to American interests than hisnmentor, Gen. Omar Torrijos, and it was with Gen. Torrijosnthat we signed the Panama Canal Treaty. If our main motivenin dealing with Noriega is the desire (in Sam Hayakawa’snphrase) to steal back the canal “fair and square,” we ought tonrealize that there is absolutely no guarantee that the nextnmajor or colonel to seize power will be any better than hisnpredecessors.nThe Global Democracy hawks had a great time, rattlingnsabres and hurling threats, and it was just like the good oldn12/CHRONICLESnPERSPECTIVEnBanana Republicansnby Thomas Flemingnnndays to see Mr. Abrams again making tough speeches thatnsounded as if they had been borrowed from the script ofnPatton. The tough talk apparently had some effect, and itnwould appear that some members of the White House innerncircle now wish they had done something more to help thenwould-be freedom fighters. CIA chief William Webster, inndefending the administration, more than hinted that PresidentnBush was reconsidering the restraints on covert actionnthat had been imposed by President Ford. While denyingnthat he wanted CIA operatives to become “hired killers,”nWebster did argue that a fast and loose CIA could make andifference the next time around, “because the likelihood ofnthe next plotter planning that he may probably take Norieganout is real.” This was enough to bring G. Gordon Liddynback in front of the television cameras, and Mr. Liddy, withnhis customary clarity, listed a number of assassination targetsnfor the CIA: Manuel Noriega, Jack Anderson (for revealingnthe names of CIA undercover agents), and CIA turncoatnJohn Stockwell. An even better idea than assassinationnwould be to send the pugnacious Mr. Abrams down to dukenit out, man — so to speak — to man with Noriega.nIf we could be sure that the CIA employed a hundrednGordon Liddys, all ready to follow orders and keep theirnmouths shut, covert action — under some extremencircumstances — could be justified as a tool of secret diplomacy.nBut the whole point to covert actions is that they arencovert. Neither the President nor the Congress can benimplicated. What sort of spymaster is it, who not only cannspeak so blithely — and so ungrammatically — about assassi-n