President Carter seems to have forgotten the value of the canal as he gave it back to the Panamanians. That is not to say the we acquired it in a fair and square way as President Teddy Roosevelt used gunboat tactics to justify taking the land so he could build it.
It is strategic but I am not sure if the USS Reagan can fit through it as it's maiden voyage to it's home port in San Diego went the long way around.
I know they are building some new locks so bigger ships can fit through but am not sure of when they will be done. Does anyone know?