How do you get rid of a dictator? That is the question on George Bush's mind these days. Gen. Manuel Noriega of Panama has proven to be most troublesome for two U. S. presidents now who have tried, so far in vain, to dispose of the military strong man. Congress agrees that Noriega must go and has joined together in the kind of "bipartisan foreign policy effort" that the White House loves to see.
But the question of the hour could be asked another way: How do you get rid of a dictator when you are through with him? That question could prove as embarrassing as the dictator himself has become.
Manuel Noriega rightly deserves all the bad press he is getting these days. What clearly is not deserved is the self-proclaimed U. S. role as the champion of democracy for Panama.
The story of Manuel Noriega's rise and fall (if indeed he does eventually fall) is not a unique saga. Remember the names Somoza, Duvalier, and Marcos? How about Pinochet and Stroessner? And those are just a few from the Dictators Hall of Fame subsidized by U. S. tax dollars. History presents us with a virtual rogues gallery of military dictators who were literally put into power by the United States and/or kept there by their influential benefactor to the north.
In some of the news reports concerning Noriega, a famous quotation by former President Franklin Roosevelt has been recalled. In referring to the first of the U.S.-backed Somoza dictators, Anastasio Somoza Garcia, Roosevelt reportedly remarked, "He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he's our son-of-a-bitch." Honestly stated. But eventually "our son-of-a-bitch" in Nicaragua became a problem for us and had to be cut loose.