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Powell on the invasion of Panama

The tools used to invade Panama and the successful implementation of government: General Noriega, General Max Thurman, Panama Defense Force. General Colin Powell in conversation with Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of The Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Walter Isaacson vs man in suit here with General Colin Powell tell me about the war in Panama the war in Panama was slow in coming to us Noriega general Noriega now president Noriega was a terrible person but he was our person for many years and then he really started to act badly in a way that was hard to ignore and then they tried to have a free and fair election and they actually elected a president but Noriega would not let him take office and he was in hiding in Panama we kept warning Noriega and we developed plans to do something about Noriega but the plan that was developed said we'll just take Noriega out I became chairman about this time and general max Thurman was in Panama at that time commanding Southern Command and neither of us thought that was a permanent solution because you take out a Noriega and another Noriega surfaces so the plan we came up with is if we ever are provoked enough to do something take it all out decisive political objective and in December of 1989 mr. Noriega kevin gave us the reason to do that his people as security people the Panamanian Defense Force killed an American service person and violated the wife of one of our service members and injured some of our service members and that was on a Saturday night general Thurman and I had already decided what we would recommend and the next morning I talked to mr. Cheney and told him what wanted to do he had been following the plans and then I brought the Chiefs the Joint Chiefs of Staff to my quarters at Fort Myers so that nobody saw a crowd at the Pentagon and briefed them on it and they supported my point of view and then mr. Cheney and I went to the White House went upstairs with President getting ready for Christmas at the time December 16th or 17th as I recall 1989 and then i briefed the President and serve as president we think the way to handle this is not with a surgical strike to take out mr. Noriega but to take out the entire Panamanian Defense Force which won't be hard not much of a force and we have a president hiding already just bring him out make him president secure the place and start to leave and after good questions from secretary Baker and mr. cheney's mr. Scowcroft the president president bush said do it and four days later we did it and it was decisive twenty twenty-five thousand roughly troops 13,000 of whom already stationed there so I just had to bring in a bunch of troops from the United States not simple we had an ice storm in Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base which slowed us down but nevertheless we went down and we took out the entire government we couldn't find Noriega for a while he had gone into hiding but he showed up at the papal nuncio as you will recall Walter and after a few days of fooling around we got him and he went to jail in the United States of the next twenty odd years and we put in president and Dora and we took out the PDF and created a new PDF and we brought in another division the seventh division from California general cabeza commanding was one of my mentees and his mission was simple go around the country and every time you come to a village asking what they want to fight and if they say no then move on to the next village and we secured the whole country quickly and we did it in a very combined arms joint operation was very good Panama on the squid 25 years have had at least four or five very successful presidential elections is not a single American soldier in Panama yes speaking of the toolbox of American diplomacy it all was you one little story was that you even used rock music after we knew where Noriega was he escaped us he turned himself in at a Dairy Queen to the papal representative in Panama who took him into the papal nuncio terror which is a home of the papal representative and they wouldn't turn him over to us and so general Thurman decided well we'll make it annoying for them so he put up loud loud speakers all over the place and he started bombarding the papal nunciature and making it unpleasant and that lasted a day or two when the Vatican said you can't you don't do this so I got a call from the White House saying you really need the rock music nice is now not really so I called Max to turn off the rock music he wasn't happy but at this point it was becoming not an effective weapon but a public relations diplomatic political disaster so we turned off the rock music and then the Papal Nuncio finally got tired of general Noriega sitting around and being a pain and gave him to us and US marshals took him back the United States right away the reason I like to linger on Panama it's kind of Powell doctor and complete because we actually put in a government and left and we had an exit strategy and we cleaned it all out we were not too successful initially on diplomacy we were condemned by mrs. Thatcher we were condemned by the OAS for invading the country but once it looks successful that all away thank you