Kansas University professor Charles Stansifer says the U.S. invasion of Panama last year nicknamed "Just Cause" should have been called "Just for Practice."
Stansifer, professor of history, said Wednesday at a University Forum that the December 1989 assault had more to do with the U.S. military's future than the future of Panama.
"The invasion came at a time when it was important to justify a military budget, to justify military hardware and demonstrate a mission for the military" after the Cold War, he said.
"The military was also looking for a war that the people supported, a war that could be won quickly and neatly, a war where there was no time for anti-war demonstrations."
Stansifer took a sabbatical from KU last year to teach at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He is former director of KU's Center for Latin American Studies.
WHILE AT THE Air War College, Stansifer was linked with U.S. Southern Command, which had its headquarters in Panama City. He also visited Panama early this year.
Stansifer said President Bush declared the operation was supposed to safeguard American lives, defend democracy in Panama, combat drug trafficking and protect the Panama Canal.
Another goal was to capture Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who nullified elections in May that the opposition was thought to have won. Noriega was captured.
"Concern for American lives could not have been a central issue," he said. "As for democracy, I can find little evidence the U.S. has even a basic understanding of the Panamanian political process.
"Most people in government and the military knew there could not be a significant advance on the war on drugs by incarcerating Manuel Noriega. Dismiss the Panama Canal issue."
STANSIFER SAID the U.S. invasion the biggest since Vietnam may have occurred to support the "political-military-industrial complex," which was facing budget cuts and searching for a mission.
With the declining threat in Eastern Europe, he said, people with vested interests in the U.S. military set out to identify opponents, and found an easy target in Panama.
The operation also gave the U.S. military a chance to practice coordination of 13,000 pre-positioned troops in Panama and an invading force of about 12,000 soldiers.
"After Grenada in 1983, the military had taken quite a bit of flak for poor communication and not being prepared. This was a chance to prove it could work," Stansifer said.
HE SAID operation of a Stealth bomber in combat gave the Air Force an opportunity to bolster their case for the radar-evading aircraft.
In addition, the invasion was launched at 1 a.m. to give the Army a chance to test night vision equipment and support its controversial goal of 24-hour-a-day fighting, he said.