In reporting on Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela's recent visit to the White House, the Washington Post mocked President Trump's comment that we (meaning the United States) did a good job building the Canal. The Post gushed, "Within minutes, Twitter had seized on what it deemed the latest Trump gaffe."
Trying to pass the responsibility for the "gaffe" label to those who commented on Twitter is specious. The Washington Post has an agenda: they will do whatever they can to try to make President Trump look bad. Whether you voted for Mr. Trump or not, whether you like him or not, he is our President. And he deserves to be treated fairly.
The fact is, this time President Trump is correct. We did build the Panama Canal. At the time of its completion, the Canal was an unprecedented engineering accomplishment. As David McCullough notes in The Path Between the Seas, "Apart from wars, it represented the largest, most costly single effort ever before mounted anywhere on earth." It was a monumental achievement, on a par--for its time--with landing a man on the moon. And it secured a place for the United States among the world powers.
Yes, as President Varela quipped, we built it "about 100 years ago." But that in itself is remarkable, considering the equipment available at that time. And indeed the locks are still working as originally designed. The only significant change to the Canal since it was completed in 1914 has been the addition of an additional set of locks to accommodate larger ships.
Did the United States make mistakes along the way? Of course, we did. Some of those mistakes are explained in my novel Death in Panama. But in the main the United States accomplished a great thing by building the Canal. It made the world a better place and improved the lives of Panamanians who benefit from being located in one of the most important commercial centers in the world.