It was finally George H.W. Bush, by then president, who moved to topple Noriega. In late December 1989, after two failed coups against Noriega in the course of less than two years, and after Panamanian forces shot and killed a Marine officer in Panama City, Bush ordered an invasion. Nearly 28,000 U.S. troops swarmed into Panama, and the invasion was an almost immediate military success. Twenty-three Americans died.
Yet perhaps the most memorable aspect of the invasion was the most slapstick. Noriega tried to flee, pursued by U.S. special operators. (The manhunt was called “Operation Nifty Package,” a moniker that could have been coined by Dana Carvey’s Bush impersonation.) After four days, Noriega turned up at the Vatican’s embassy in Panama City, initiating a Pythonesque sequence. The U.S. pressured the pope to have Noriega turned over. Meanwhile, American forces encircled the embassy, and based on reports that Noriega was