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BUSH’S INACTION SPARKS BIPARTISAN ANGER

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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are criticizing President Bush for not offering U.S. aid to ensure the success of an attempted coup in Panama.

"Once again we have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and I think it's an outrage," Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., said Tuesday.Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., said U.S. intervention could have made a difference in the attempt to oust Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. "We have the absolute unilateral right to use force," DeConcini said.

Helms offered an amendment late Tuesday that would grant Bush the extraordinary power to use U.S. troops to remove Noriega and bring him to trial in the United States. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Helms' amendment made "the Gulf of Tonkin resolution blush by comparison." (That resolution, approved by Congress in 1964, was used by President Lyndon Johnson to escalate a full-fledged war in Vietnam.)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman David Boren, D-Okla., was bitter after emerging from an hourlong classified CIA briefing on the coup attempt.

"Here you have brave people in Panama trying to rid themselves of a drug dealer and a thug who's taken over their country," Boren said. "And for the United States, with all of our strength and force and all of our belief in democracy, to stand by . . . and do nothing and allow these people to fail, personally I think is wrong."

Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, told reporters "I have no objection to American involvement behind the scenes, but I do not want to see U.S. troops involved there." And Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said, "We should not be attempting to influence events in Panama."