nation, but does so in the language of cheap thrillers?nWebster’s performance as FBI director was applauded bynthe left as “responsible,” and if he makes the CIA equallynresponsible, it will no longer have any reason to exist.nWhy are we picking on Manuel Noriega? Because hendeals drugs. Unlike what other Latin American leaders?nFidel Castro has become a hero in our war on drugs simplynby executing a hero of his revolution on the charge of drugntrafficking. The newspapers solemnly printed the story thatnCastro was cracking down on a business in which he isninvolved, reportedly, up to his armpits. If you believe innCastro, then you may as well believe the stories we used tontell about Gen. Noriega’s heroic war against drugs or, fornthat matter, the stories we are now telling about this samenformer friend and ally.nThe truth about Noriega is that he has always played bothnsides against the middle, cooperating with American drugnenforcement efforts while receiving payoffs from the drugnlords. Reagan appointees in the State Department, whosenidea of Realpolitik consists of cliches clipped out of NewnRepublic editorials, were incensed to discover an ally whondid not, apparently, live up to the Boy Scout oath. Besides,nhe was a convenient target — not to say scapegoat: an ugly,nacne-scarred hood about to take over our beloved canal.nHow better to recover their reputations after all theirndisasters in Central America?nBecause it is hard to conceive of our policies of the pastnseveral decades as anything but a prolonged disaster. Thenpattern goes something like this: first we support a hoodlumnlike Batista or the Somozas, as bulwarks of anticommunismnand the American Way (read United Fruit Company); thennwe dump our ally in favor of a revolutionary party thatnclaims to be fighting to establish democracy; then, when thenrevolution is successful, Fidel or Danny turns out to havenmeant not the liberal socialism of Harry Truman but thenmore virulent form of democracy whose first name isn”people’s,” and we begin to support a rabble of ex-thugs,nliberal college professors, and ne’er-do-wells whom wenchoose to call Freedom Fighters—but never to the pointnthat they can win. The last thing we ever wanted was for thenNicaraguan Contras to win. We only wanted to put themninto a better position to negotiate.nAt the same time, we are attempting to bribe our way intonpower in Panama, Costa Rica, and El Salvador by fundingnthe opponents of a leftist gangster (Noriega), a liberalndemocrat (Oscar Arias), and a militant rightist (RobertonD’Aubisson). As it turns out, the National Endowment fornDemocracy was not the only financial supporter of OscarnArias’ principal opponent: Manuel Noriega reportedly suppliednthe same candidate with a contribution of $500,000.nThe net result is that the United States is hated and despisednby the left, right, and center throughout the region.nThe only justification for imperialism is success, and ournown record — going back over the century — is a virtuallynunbroken string of failures. It is hard to decide whichnpolitical party has dirtier hands, the Democrats with Presidentsnlike Wilson and Kennedy and their crusades forndemocracy and Alliance for Progress, or the Republicansnwith William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and DwightnEisenhower and their eagerness to cater to powerful businessninterests with a stake in Latin America. (Compared with hisnpredecessors, Mr. Bush is actually doing a good job innCentral America by his refusal to get drawn into coups,nplots, and revolutions. It is easy for outsiders to say henbungled the job in Panama, but not so easy to declare whatnwe should have done. A cautious wait-and-see approachnmay well turn out to be the only prudent course.)nFortunately for our reputation, there have been severalnAmerican statesmen who refused to accept the propositionnthat it was in our interest either to embezzle thenresources or interfere in the politics of our southernnneighbors. In this group belong most of the Jeffersonians,nincluding John Randolph and John C. Calhoun, leadingnpopulists like William Jennings Bryan, who was scandalizednby the Spanish-American War, and many of the Midwesternnisolationists. To a good many of their descendants, the mostndesirable policy could be summed up in the expressionn”Fish or cut bait.” Either accept the responsibilities ofnempire and take over the region by main force andnAmericanize it, or else leave these poor people alone. Ournusual tools of diplomacy — surrogate armies, bribery,nassassination — are both dishonorable in themselves andnunworthy of a great power. If Cen. Noriega or thenSandinistas are as evil and as dangerous as we say they are,nthen send in the Marines. Otherwise, we can easily afford tonlet them rot, setting as powerful a counterexample to thenworld as the Democratic Republic of Germany.nWe should treat the nations of Central America withndiplomatic dignity, as befits their status as sovereign states,nand should not trouble ourselves with the form of governmentnthe peoples of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panamanare willing to endure. At the same time, the United Statesnshould give them not a penny of loans or credits and letnthem understand that we shall continue in this policy eithernuntil such time as they begin to intervene directly in thenaffairs of their neighbors, in which case we reduce them tonthe status of a protectorate, or until they learn to governnthemselves with “a decent respect for the opinion ofnmankind.” If covert actions are necessary, as Mr. Liddynassures us they are, they should be undertaken solely in thenAmerican interest and never on such flimsy grounds asnglobal democratism or a crusade against drugs.nOther countries, e.g., France and Israel, can afford tonemploy terrorism and covert action to accomplish their ends,nbecause their governments have some notion of what it isnthey want to accomplish. We don’t have a foreign policy;nindeed, we never had. We have blundered into most of ournmajor wars either by accident or at the whim of whatevernpolitical promoter happened to sit in the White House. Thenlast war undertaken in the manifestly national interest wasnthe Mexican War, and it is interesting to note how many ofnthe great Whig imperialists were against it, including thenAmerican Cromwell — Mr. Lincoln.nThe very word nationalism has an ugly ring to it,ncontaminated — as it has been—by the economic andnpolitical imperialism that has predominated in both majornparties for most of this century. (The Republicans in thenperiods after both world wars are the major exceptions.) Still,nsomething like nationalism is worth reviving as a motivatingnforce behind all policy-making. Whether we agree to call itnnationalism, patriotism, or the national interest, such annnJANUARY 1990/13n