Panama To Afghanistan, The Long Tail Of American Hubris

U.S. Army tank in Panama in 1989
U.S. Army tank in Panama in 1989
Benjamin Witte

The news from Afghanistan this morning is devastating: at least 80 killed and hundreds wounded following a massive explosion in Kabul. The violence, of course, is hardly limited to Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, two attacks in the space of 12 hours, one at a well-known ice cream parlor, killed at least 27 people in Baghdad. Hitting an summer ice cream spot in the Iraqi capital was, once again, a deliberate choice to target children. Last week, it was a deadly suicide bombing attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, where the prime objective was to kill teenage and pre-teen girls.

Faced with such evil intentions, outrage directed at the perpetrators and their patrons — almost exclusively radical Islamist terrorist groups — is utterly justified. But it is also insufficient. Understanding the context also means pointing to the repercussions of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq, in 2001 and 2003, which continue to be felt in those two countries, and beyond.

Vietnam was supposed to have taught America a lesson

With the successive wars, launched by then U.S. President George W. Bush, "All hell broke loose," Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News argued in a recent memoir of his two decades in the Middle East (1996-2016). Engel is particularly critical of the Iraq invasion, a policy he originally supported but came to see as being built on false premises. The U.S. government, under Bush, thought it could plant "the seeds of democracy." It failed.

"This is why refugees have been flowing out of the Middle East by the millions for Europe," Engel wrote in his 2016 book. "If President Bush's seeds of democracy or the Arab Spring had bloomed, these families wouldn't be risking everything to leave. Many in the region have simply lost all hope."

America's tragic misadventure in Vietnam, in the 1960s and 1970s, was supposed to have taught the country a lesson about launching faraway, ideologically-driven wars. And it did, for a while at least. Little by little, though, memories of that quagmire were superseded by a new vision of U.S. military might, and by a shifting geopolitical picture that left America as the world's sole superpower.

Some note that one of the turning points toward this new era came from a country also in the news this week: Panama. The former dictator of the small Central American nation Manuel Noriega, who died Monday at 83, shared something with Saddam Hussein in Iraq: Gen. Noriega was a useful ally of the United States — until he wasn't. In December 1989, the father of "W.", President George H.W. Bush, launched Operation Just Cause, an all-out invasion of Panama involving nearly 28,000 American troops. In just over a month, U.S. forces seized control of the country and ousted Noriega, who was later jailed on drugs trafficking charges.

From the U.S. perspective, the war in Panama was a rousing success. American casualties were limited to 23. Democratic elections were held shortly afterwards. And it all took place in a blink of an eye. Never mind that as many as 3,000 Panamanian civilians are believed to have died: America was great again.

It was the kind of success the U.S. military, still trying to live down the stain of Vietnam, was happy to build upon. And it did — starting less than a year later — with Operation Desert Shield, better known as the First Gulf War. Together the two conflicts made U.S. forces seem unstoppable, an idea the younger Bush took to heart a decade later. It would be a unique kind of American heroism, he thought. Looking back, it looks more like the most dangerous brand of American hubri

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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