Everybody now has signed the Panama Canal treaties but the Senate and, as John Hay, Teddy Roosevelt's Secretary of State, remarked, "A treaty entering the Senate is like a bull going into the arena: No one can say just when or how the blow will fall - but one thing is certain - it will never leave the arena alive."
Considering that 13 years of negotiating went into arriving at this agreement. we might do ourselves a favor to pause before we refuse to ratify it. Canal agreements are never easilty come by. The reason Theodore Roosevelt fomented a CIA-style revolution in Colombia to create the more docile republic of Panama was because he couldn't make a deal. "You could no more make an agreement with the Colombians rulers," the great TR pronounced, "than you could nail currant jelly to a wall - and the failure due to the nail; it is due to the currant jelly."
"Ordinarily documents like the Panama agreements are compromises with something in them for everybody. Doubtless that's what the Carter administration intended, but what they've come up with is a deal in which nobody is quite sure about what they got.
The conservatives of the Ronald Reagan school are worried lest we have given the canal up in the ambiguous language of those many paragraphed treaties. To that the administration is saying no, no we haven't; the canal is ours until the turn of the century, more than 20 years from now. At the same time Panamanians and Americans who want the United States out of there are being told that's what the treaty does.
In politics mutually exclusive statements can embrace and make love if they find the right place to bed down. Thus we can give up the canal while still keeping it, provided the Panamanians don't decide that their strong man has finked out and sold them to the Yankee imperialists. Should that happen, we will have to decide what to do if Panamanian youths, seized by an ill-considered love of their tropical fatherland, hurl themselves against our bayonets to die in grotesque positions mumbling tasteless, communistical slogans. Fight, you say? Perhaps a Panamanian guerrilla was is what we need to blood our voluntary, i.e., quasi-mercenary, army, half of which will soon be made up of red-corpuscled American girls.
The liberals of the Tri-lateral Commission who're pushing this thing are using their favorite argument on it: to wit that doing it now, whatever now is, spending it now, will save us money and trouble later. They advance the same proposition with everything - schools, dope addicts, rehabilitating crooks in jail - and it's true if you know what you're talking about. IN the Panamanian situation, nobody can know if we have really bought ourselves 23 years of peaceful, continued occupancy or not. By then even Ronald Reagan will be ready to give up a century-old Edwardian-period piece of public works.
The point is the country should be told that what is being misleadingly sold as a certainty is a gamble. It may be a reasonable gamble, but a gamble it is, not a sure thing. We're not out of the canal situation with these agreements, and it could pop up anythime after the Senate ratifies.
A last course of action would be to take the canal home with us when we leave. A nation with London Bridge in Lake Havasu, Ariz., should have no difficulty in locating the Panama Canal in Pottstown, Pa.