Panama: Operational Lessons from a Successful Regime Change   [open pdf - 105KB]

"It is relevant to study Operation Just Cause, the liberation of Panama, because the goal of that operation was essentially identical to that of the current operation in Iraq, namely, to depose a dictator and help the country become free, prosperous, and secure. It also is relevant because in Panama, U.S. forces achieved strategic and operational objectives with relatively low costs in terms of time, blood, and treasure. While the situation in Panama was clearly easier, strategy played a decisive role in that success. There are elements of that strategy that prove instructive for current operations in Iraq. The United States helped Panama gain its independence from Colombia in exchange for its acceptance of U.S. plans to build a canal. After the United States agreed to turn over the Canal to Panama, but before the transfer, Manuel Noriega took over the Panamanian Armed Forces and then overturned a democratic election to consolidate his control of the government. While Noriega tried to justify his actions through anti-U.S. nationalism, he was seen by many, if not most, Panamanians as a gangster. As the scope of his corruption became clear and his attacks on Americans became extreme, the United States decided to act. It appears that adopting certain strategies used in Panama could make a positive difference in Iraq. These strategies are as follows: (1) war game alternative COAs [Course of Action] to help identify alternatives before investing in potentially harmful strategies; (2) limit outside support by not provoking intervention and sealing borders; (3) protect friends and key infrastructure by creating a prioritized protected assets list; (4) win the legitimacy fight by simultaneously emphasizing the legitimacy of democratic representatives and institutions and emphasizing the illegitimacy of adversaries; and (5) continue to war game branches and sequels even as the campaign plan is executed, updating it to depict new realities and new enemy innovations."

Report Number:
Air Command and Staff College Quick-Look 05--2; ACSC Quick-Look 05-02
Public Domain
Retrieved From:
Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC): https://discover.dtic.mil/
Media Type:
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