Public Papers - 1989
Exchange With Reporters Following the President's Hand Surgery
The President. First report, all is well.
Q. How do you feel?
The President. Feel fine. They just did a -- went deep down into the -- near the bone, apparently. But I think the doctor felt it was a good thing to do. But it's real minor. When it's healed -- I'm out of some sports for a few days, but other than that it's fine, just fine. So, anyway -- --
Q. Sir, how about Panama? Simply put, a lot of critics say you blew it. Your administration blew it on Panama. Do you have a comment on that?
The President. I don't think that's the case. No, we reviewed all the information, and I don't see anything now that would have had me make a different decision then. And I think the Senate and the House, once fully briefed, will understand that.
But I want to see Noriega out of there. I think the record will show that there was never a chance to have him handed over to us. I think that was one of the things that caused concern, because there's a report that he was offered to our military and they wouldn't take him. Well, that simply is not true. So, once that fact is out there, I think it will be all right.
Obviously, I would like to see him out, but I think any Commander in Chief must have the lives of American citizens and of American soldiers foremost in mind when he makes a decision. And I'm not just being stubborn, but as I look at all the information, I wouldn't today have made a different decision then. And I think that will get clear when people understand the facts.
Q. When you say make a decision, I mean, what exactly did you decide to do -- --
The President. Well, what people -- some people -- seemed to have wanted me to do is to unleash the full military and go in and -- quote -- get Noriega. I think that's the charge by those who feel as frustrated as I do about the results. But I think that's the allegation. So you say, what could a Commander in Chief have done? I suppose you could have gone to general quarters. But that's not prudent, and that's not the way I plan to conduct the military or foreign affairs of this country.
Q. Did you ever consider doing that, sir?
Q. Were there communications problems, sir?
The President. Not under these circumstances. Not under the way the circumstances developed.
Q. Were there communications problems? Were there bad cables? Was there a gap in getting information to you?
The President. I don't think so. We had kind of almost a running meeting there. And I think that's a good question, and I don't think I can factually answer that yet. Having been through a few situations of this nature, I think the more coordination you have the better, but I don't think there was a fact gap that kept the President from acting differently -- put it that way. But whether we can do better on communications, I don't know. I hope so.
Q. Do the Panamanians who might want to mount another coup attempt feel that in the future there might be a different response from you -- that perhaps you might, under the right conditions, use military force to help?
The President. Well, I think, as I indicated -- I didn't say it publicly, but as I -- put it this way: I would not rule out any option -- any option. But you have to look at the facts at the time. And you've got to keep in mind the lives of American citizens, lives of your own troops, and what you're trying to do. But I wouldn't -- certainly wouldn't rule that out.
Q. Do you think the likelihood of another coup attempt is less now because this was put down, sir? Do you think a coup attempt -- --
The President. I don't know. I get the feeling that those who are in opposition feel that, with this manifestation of opposition to Noriega being more clear than ever, that maybe he's weaker; but maybe that's wishful thinking. But I'll tell you, the day he goes out there will be dancing in the streets of Panama.
Q. Sir, why didn't you use military force in this case? Was it because you didn't think you could get Noriega himself? Or what was the reason?
The President. Well, I didn't use military force because it wasn't warranted under the existing circumstances.
I've got to go. Thank you all.
Q. How long are you going to keep that elevated?
The President. I've got to hold it up like this, and I'm trying very hard to keep it in this five-finger position here. You get what I mean? [Laughter] One more question, however. [Laughter] No, come on.
Q. Did it hurt, Mr. President?
The President. No. They put a block on it. I didn't feel it.
Q. Does it hurt now?
The President. They tell me it will later. No, it doesn't now. Just out of some sports.
Note: The President spoke at approximately 2:15 p.m. outside the Emergency Room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, following surgery to remove a cyst from his right hand. The President then left for a weekend stay at Camp David, MD.