January 14, 2013
The original Panama Canal was a revolution in geopolitics and economics; before it was built, the sea voyage was shorter from London to San Francisco than from New York to California, and the Caribbean was a strategic dead end that nobody in world politics cared much about.
A generation of U.S. foreign policy involved extending power by building bases to secure it. And of course the original canal involved huge U.S. political engagement, enabling Panama’s independence from Columbia and the establishment of the Canal Zone so that the U.S. could keep full control.
Now, a century later, the Canal is being dramatically expanded, and the U.S. government is much less involved. . . .
Some might look at that and see a decline in U.S. power. But they would be very wrong. The U.S. has been so successful in building a global system of politics and trade, and its naval power in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific is so supreme, that we don’t need to build more bases, annex more land or otherwise interfere with a multinational process that serves our interests well.
Barry Goldwater said that America “stole it fair and square” when he was fighting Jimmy Carter’s proposal to give control over the Canal to Panama. These days, we don’t even have to do that. The Panamanians run the Canal without needing any prompting from us, and they have seen through a massive improvement that benefits the American economy because it also benefits them.
That’s the best way to have things, when you can.