Posts Tagged ‘War on Drugs’

The Continued Failure of Right Wing Social Engineering

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

At some point it became part of the standard Republican playbook to criticize liberals for engaging in “social engineering.” Liberals – in this telling – see humans as perfectible creatures who just need the guidance of the a centralized state with scientific-minded engineers to become better. With proper planning and direction longstanding human problems could be taken care of and humankind would exist in a socialist utopia. This view was always a caricature – indeed an appropriation of a term created to describe the early efforts at deliberate manipulation of large populations through marketing and propaganda – from the Nazis to American corporations. But Republicans co-opted this term to describe the grand government projects taken on at the apex of mid-20th century liberalism, as in our hubris we sought to “engineer” enormous changes to the benefit of all society.

This story – this narrative framework – was influential because it struck a note of truth. Mid-2oth century American liberalism saw an exceedingly confident America which believed in the nearly limitless potential of American government action. After all, America – led by its government – had defeated a seemingly unstoppable enemy, pulled the nation and world out of a Great Depression, learned how to split atoms and create enormous destructive and productive power, finally begun to deal with the legacy of slavery, begun providing generous benefits to the elderly, and even sent a man to the moon. The declarations of American liberals of this time were bold and utopian. FDR declared that America must ensure that every individual in the world must have “freedom from want,” a sort of economic right. Lyndon Johnson declared War on Poverty! Richard Nixon (a realist in a liberal era) declared War on Cancer, War on Crime, and War on Drugs! Today this hopefulness seems painfully naive as we learned that every massive government “war” has had massive side-effects while not, as yet, achieving its desired result.

As confidence in government declined in the 1970s, the more thoughtful critics of this liberal tendency saw its core failing as hubris. They suggested a more modest approach in which government would act more as a gardener “cultivat[ing] a growth by providing the appropriate environment” rather than as some craftsman or engineer creating society anew through government coercion and radical changes.

But the Republicans who eventually took power on the wave of disgust, disappointment, resentment, and anger at liberalism’s excesses did not adopt this epistemologically modest approach. Reagan and his ilk replaced liberals’ confidence in the good government could do with the insistence that government was just getting in the way. Their conclusion was simple: Government wasn’t the solution to these problems – it was the problem! Rather than seeing the hubris of liberals as the problem, they thought liberals simply were certain about the wrong things. Their shorthand for this moral lesson was to accuse liberals of attempting “social engineering.” The solution was to cut taxes, to prune government, and to hold out the promise of slashing it eventually (to starve the beast.)

Politics though is about creating and shaping a society that we want to live in. It is less a matter of ideology and policy positions, and more about values. Right wingers saw that the problems they had identified as resulting from liberalism’s excesses did not cease as Republicans cut taxes and regulations and pulled the government back from involvement in the economy. Blaming liberal government action for upsetting the “natural” balance, right wingers yearned to shape society themselves in order to recreate what they had lost. They branded themselves as individualists even as they promoted the tyrannical, collectivist organizations commonly called corporations. From a complex web of ideological positions taken by the Republican Party to build their political coalition came a hodge-podge of goals which (though perhaps not cohering immediately) have solidified into an agenda of right wing social engineering. The Republicans began to use government to encourage the traditional nuclear family of a man, woman and 2 and 1/2 children; to promote and encourage a christianist lifestyle and increase the role and funding of religious institutions; to encouraged a particular brand of “rugged” individualism; and to aid the rise of American corporations at home and abroad.

The logical culmination of this new big government conservatism, this right wing social engineering, was the presidency of George W. Bush, as he increased the size of government mainly by outsourcing work and responsibilities to corporations, as he began 2 wars leading to 2 massive social engineering projects in the Middle East, as he allowed and encouraged government funding of faith-based charities, and most dramatically through his Ownership Society as he sought to transform America into a nation of homeowners with 401Ks and Health Care Savings Accounts instead of Social Security and Medicare and rentals. The right wing’s social engineering agenda extended past Bush though. The main right wing health care alternative adopted in some measure by Milton Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, and John McCain seeks to transform American society to make its citizens more individualistic. This alternative begins by eliminating tax credits for employer-sponsored health insurance and the encouragement of Health Savings Accounts and the evisceration of all regulations on the insurance industry (by allowing competition across state lines where most regulations exist thus creating a “race to the bottom” as states attempt to attract the health insurance industry.) It would culminate in the elimination of Medicare and Medicaid. Many on the right have also made clear their goal remains to obstruct any liberal attempt to solve the fiscal problem they have engineered to give them the opportunity to re-write the social contract.

Looking at current Republican agenda – you see a similar hubris to what they decried as liberals’ “social engineering” – as they seek to remake the entire health care sector and the economy.

Meanwhile, it is the Democrats who had adopted an epistemologically modest approach – of tinkering with our current system to try to save it rather than to provoke a crisis to remake society, tearing apart the social bargain between citizen and government.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Former Drug Czar McCaffrey Doesn’t Care If Marijuana Is Legalized

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

Former Drug Czar, General BARRY MCCAFFREY (retired): …[S]ince I’m not in public life, [I can say] I actually don’t care.  I care about 6th graders through 12th graders.  If you’re 40 years old, and you’re living in Oregon, and you have 12 giant pot plants in the back of your log cabin, knock yourself out.

Discussing Mexico and US drug policy at the Council on Foreign Relations on February 23, 2009.

General McCaffrey as drug czar vehemently opposed medical marijuana; he accelerated the militarization of the Drug War in Columbia and Mexico; and during his time as drug czar, arrests for marijuana possession soared above those for harder drugs (See graph on page 3 of pdf). After years of failure to dent domestic demand for drugs, this chief drug warrior now admits he doesn’t care if drugs are legalized and that he sees nothing wrong with growing your own marijuana. It is incredible that someone could pursue the policies he did – and now state that he either didn’t or doesn’t strongly believe drugs should be illegal. 

Two weeks ago, another group of former drug warriors produced a report describing the failure of America’s prohibitionist policy in Latin America and in the United States:

Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are farther than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs…

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions…

[T]he available empirical evidence shows that the harm caused by [marijuana] is similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. More importantly, most of the damage associated with cannabis use – from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

From Drugs and Democracy, a report by César Gaviria (former president of Columbia), Ernesto Zedillo (former president of Mexico), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former president of Brazil) and numerous other prominent Latin American figures released February 11, 2009.

As former Governor William Weld recently explained:

There’s no one so brave and wise as the politician who’s not running for office and who’s not going to be.

It is notable that so many of our prominent politicians reveal after they leave office that they don’t really agree with the premise of the War on Drugs – a war which is consuming billions of dollars, waging war on our citizenry, jailing a higher percentage of our citizens than any other nation, destabilizing our neighbors, competing with and undermining anti-terrorism measures, and making America less safe

Instead, the best our current leaders offer is to soften the roughest edges of the Drug War on American citizens.1

Obama has taken a number of sensible positions on Drug War issues – but he has not publicly acknowledged what most informed observers can see – that the War on Drugs has failed, is wasting money, and making us less safe. It is inconceivable that a reflective, informed policy-maker such as Obama does not realize this as well.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to tell all of the favor-seekers who came to impress upon him the importance of certain issues:

I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.

In other words, we must put pressure on Obama if the hopes of reform advocates and Obama administration insiders are to be realized.

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  1. Yes, I know about the San Francisco Assemblymen Ammiano introduced a bill in California to legalize marijuana and tax it – but he’s clearly the exception. Texas Congressman Ron Paul would be another exception. []

The War on Drugs is Making Us Less Safe: Mexico

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Following up on the continuing crisis in Mexico, William Booth of the Washington Post quotes the Economy Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Mateos who said that the cartels were becoming so powerful that “unless they were confronted, ‘the next president of the republic would be a narco-trafficker.’ ” President Felipe Calderon defended the use of the Mexican army “to confront this evil” of the drug cartels. The crisis seems to be escalating:

Turf battles involving the drug traffickers, who are fighting the army, police and one another in order to secure billion-dollar smuggling routes into the United States, took the lives of more than 6,000 people in Mexico last year. The pace of killing has continued in 2009, with more than 650 dead, most in the violent border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana.

With 650 people dead due to Drug War violence in Mexico in 2009, it is outpacing Iraq’s casualties in it’s seemingly deesclating conflict which is reported to have 296 deaths this year by IraqBodyCount.org.

The War on Drugs is Making Us Less Safe (cont.)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

I’ve been writing for some time about how the War on Drugs is both undermining our national security at home and abroad. The Pentagon, with their Joint Operating Environment Report for 2008 [pdf], confirmed this:

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

The Pentagon understands that the escalating drug gang violence (with casaulty rates higher than Iraq) is destabilizing our neighbor to the south. Sam Quinones, writing for Foreign Policy, describes the changes in the levels of violence in the past four years (when he last lived in Mexico):

When I lived in Mexico, the occasional gang member would turn up executed, maybe with duct-taped hands, rolled in a carpet, and dropped in an alley. But Mexico’s newspapers itemized a different kind of slaughter last August: Twenty-four of the week’s 167 dead were cops, 21 were decapitated, and 30 showed signs of torture. Campesinos found a pile of 12 more headless bodies in the Yucatán. Four more decapitated corpses were found in Tijuana, the same city where barrels of acid containing human remains were later placed in front of a seafood restaurant. A couple of weeks later, someone threw two hand grenades into an Independence Day celebration in Morelia, killing eight and injuring dozens more. And at any time, you could find YouTube videos of Mexican gangs executing their rivals—an eerie reminder of, and possibly a lesson learned from, al Qaeda in Iraq.

The former U.S. drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, commenting on the same situation warned that:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

The situation is clearly dire. Which makes last week’s report by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, and other nation’s all the more significant. They see the status quo as unacceptable – and insist that we must decriminalize marijuana and stop treating the problem of drugs as a war lest we end up with nothing but failed states and military dictatorships in Latin America, or as the diplomatic language of the report states, current drug policies have”enormous human and social costs” and are “threats to democratic institutions.” In part, this is due to the “criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime, as well as the proliferation of the linkages between them, as reflected in the infiltration of democratic institutions by organized crime.” But it describes further threats arising more directly from the policies themselves.

The report describes the problem of the status quo in stark terms:

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. The whole issue has become taboo which inhibits public debate. The association of drugs with crime blocks the circulation of information and segregates drug users in closed circles where they become even more exposed to organized crime.

Hence, breaking the taboo and acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for opening up the discussion about a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.

This does not mean the outright rejection of [all Drug War] policies…

There are two main strategies for combatting drugs which it describes – both of them critically – the prohibitionist strategy, or Drug War of the United States, which is reflected in Columbia, Mexico, America, and Afghanistan; and the harm reduction strategy of Europe. The report is most critical of the prohibitionist strategy. In the United States itself, the Drug War’s “policy of massive incarceration of drug users [is] questionable both in terms of respect for human rights and its efficiency.” Describing the effect of the Drug War on Columbia, the report is harsher:

For decades, Colombia implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort whose benefits were not proportional to the vast amount of resources invested and the human costs involved…

The traumatic Colombian experience is a useful reference for countries not to make the mistake of adopting the US prohibitionist policies and to move forward in the search for innovative alternatives.

At the same time, the report finds fault with the European method of dealing with the problem of drugs, saying that:

[H]arm reduction minimizes the social dimension of the problem [and] the policy of the European Union fails to curb the demand for illicit drugs that stimulates its production and exportation from other parts of the world.

In other words, the European Union’s approach merely attempts to quarantine the problem as it exists within their own societies while doing nothing about the gang warfare and destabilization the production and smuggling of drugs means abroad. Apparently, at the same time drugs themselves are taking a greater toll on Latin America:

The levels of drug consumption continue to grow in Latin America while there is a tendency toward stabilization in North America and Europe

This collection of prominent Latin American politicians has a number of suggestions to help reverse the destabilizing effects of current drug policies. One of the most prominent is to descriminalize marijuana. While considered “the king crop” by the Mexican gangs thanks to the steady and broad market and it’s cheapness to produce (as opposed to the riskier cocaine and heroin production, sale, and smuggling), the report states that:

[T]he available empirical evidence shows that the harm caused by this drug is similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. More importantly, most of the damage associated with cannabis use – from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

Another major change in policy the report suggests is to treat “those who have become addicted to drugs” as “patients of the health care system” instead of :buyers in an illegal market.” 

As I wrote before:

The War on Drugs isn’t just failing. The War on Drugs isn’t just causing us to imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other in the world. The War on Drugs isn’t just eroding our laws and institutions. The War on Drugs doesn’t just undermine the War Against Terrorism. The War on Drugs isn’t just making our efforts in Afghanistan harder. The War on Drugs isn’t just wasting law enforcement resources, and costing America gold medals.  

No – it is also destabilizing nations right next to us.

This is what makes a reevaluation of our Drug War a national security priority as well as a civil liberties issue. The former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia all saw hope in the administration of Barack Obama, citing him in the report, hope that he will finally tackle this long-festering issue. He may on his own – and he has made some remarks which constitute progress.

But the issue may be, to paraphrase FDR’s oft-repeated line: Obama agrees with us in principle; now we need to put political pressue on him to do something about it.

The War on Drugs Is Making Us Less Safe

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

The Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy including a number of prominent Latin American politicians yesterday called the U.S. War on Drugs a failure. As summarized by Jose De Cordoba of the Wall Street Journal:

As drug violence spirals out of control in Mexico, a commission led by three former Latin American heads of state blasted the U.S.-led drug war as a failure that is pushing Latin American societies to the breaking point.

“The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war,” said former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in a conference call with reporters from Rio de Janeiro. “We have to move from this approach to another one.”

The commission, headed by Mr. Cardoso and former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, says Latin American governments as well as the U.S. must break what they say is a policy “taboo” and re-examine U.S.-inspired antidrugs efforts. The panel recommends that governments consider measures including decriminalizing the use of marijuana. [my emhpasis]

The complete report (which I haven’t yet reviewed) can be found here (pdf). 

The key point is the one I highlighted in the passage above – not only is the Drug War failing – but it is, according to these prominent ex-politicians  – and “There’s no one so brave and wise as the politician who’s not running for office and who’s not going to be”)  – pushing these neighbors of ours to the breaking point. Which is part of the reason the Joint Operating Environment report by the Department of Defense saw the sudden collapse of Mexico as a possibility in the next year. 

The War on Drugs isn’t just failing. The War on Drugs isn’t just causing us to imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other in the world. The War on Drugs isn’t just eroding our laws and institutions. The War on Drugs doesn’t just undermine the War Against Terrorism. The War on Drugs isn’t just making our efforts in Afghanistan harder. The War on Drugs isn’t just wasting law enforcement resources, and costing America gold medals.  

No – it is also destabilizing nations right next to us.

This is what makes a reevaluation of our Drug War a national security priority.

How the War on Drugs Is Making America Less Safe (cont.)

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Solomon Moore in the New York Times:

For the cartels, “marijuana is the king crop,” said Special Agent Rafael Reyes, the chief of the Mexico and Central America Section of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It consistently sustains its marketability and profitability.”

Marijuana trafficking continues virtually unabated in the United States, even as intelligence reports suggest the declining availability of heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs that require extensive smuggling operations.

If marijuana is now the main drug that is sustaining the Mexican drug gangs that are causing so much chaos in our neighbor to the south that they could potentially cause it to collapse overnight, mightn’t it make strategic sense to take some steps to bring the marijuana trafficking into the light?

Of course, if marijuana is especially debilitating or toxic or dangerous or addictive, this strategic advantage might not be enough to justify it’s decriminalization. But it is none of those things.

Which just goes to prove my previous thesis – that the War on Drugs is making America less safe.
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How the War on Drugs Is Making America Less Safe From Terrorism (cont.)

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Yesterday’s post on the conflicts between the Drug War and the War on Terror seems more timely today – as the New York Times has a prominent article by Thom Shanker on the Afghan narcotics trade and Esquire has an article by John H. Richardson claiming that sources in the Obama transition team are suggesting that marijuana be decriminalized and the Drug War ended by Obama’s second term.

From Richardson’s article:

Marsha Rosenbaum, the former head of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, who quit last year to become a fundraiser for Obama…remains confident that those recommendations would call for an end to the drug war. “Once everything settles down in the second term, we have a shot at seeing some real reform.”

From Shanker’s:

[A] number of NATO members have in broad terms described their reluctance publicly, including Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. Their leaders have cited domestic policies that make counternarcotics a law enforcement matter — not a job for their militaries — and expressed concern that domestic lawsuits could be filed if their soldiers carried out attacks to kill noncombatants, even if the victims were involved in the drug industry in Afghanistan.

End the Drug War. Focus on stopping terrorism. It’s the only sane choice.

How the War on Drugs Is Making America Less Safe From Terrorism

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

The War on Drugs is undermining America’s War on Terror by:

  • creating an adversarial relationship with a large portion of the country;
  • calling into question the legitimacy of the rule of law and law enforcement;
  • competing for law enforcement resources; and
  • revealing the measures we take to track money being laundered and to stop smuggling.

The threat of terrorism is real, if often exaggerated for political purposes; and the consequences of a low probability, high impact attack could be catastrophic. If terrorism is our most immediate national security threat, then we must rearrange our priorities and end the failing Drug War.

The prosecution of Tommy Chong (half of the perpetually baked comedy duo Cheech and Chong) illustrates some of these points.

The state of Pennsylvania prohibits the shipping of drug paraphernalia – such as bongs – into it’s state. In 2003, a man from Beaver Falls, PA began calling a store in California run by the family of Tommy Chong asking them to ship him a large order of bongs and assorted other glassware. A manager at the store claimed that man called at least 20 times – and each time a representative of the store told him they could not ship to his state, citing the Pennsylvania law. This very determined man traveled to California to order the items – but he was not determined enough to stay around until his order was packed up. He returned to Pennsylvania. The store still refused to ship him the items – but after a few weeks, they gave in to his repeated demands.

That was the excuse a SWAT team needed to raid the store and arrest Tommy Chong. The entire operation was set up by a U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Mary Beth Buchanan. The net cost to the taxpayer to put Tommy Chong  in jail for 9 months (Chong was convinced to take the fall although he didn’t run the business and had nothing to do with this incident) was $12 million. Tommy Chong, reflecting on the lessons of his experience pointed to “the absurdity of the War on Drugs when we have a much more pressing – and wholly unrelated – war on terrorism to worry about.”

I only disagree with the sage Tommy Chong in that the two wars are wholly unrelated. They are related intimately – and the war against Tommy Chong is making the war against Al Qaeda harder.

The most profound way the War on Drugs is undermining the War on Terror is how it calls into question the legitimacy of the rule of law and of law enforcement. Tommy Chong’s case is not atypical in how disproportionate the resources used to take him down were to his threat to society – from the millions of dollars spent to the SWAT team to the sting operation – you would expect him to be some kind of violent drug lord. Chong’s case is exceptional only due to his celebrity. The number of hours dedicated to fighting the Drug War against American citizens is incalculable. Each arrest for possession, for possession with intent to distribute, or any other of a long list minor offenses involves the time and attention of police officers, as well as judges and attorneys. Yet with all this effort, this War on Drugs has been fruitless. As Ben Wallace-Wells subtitled his summary of the War on Drugs: “After Thirty-Five Years and $500 Billion, Drugs Are as Cheap and Plentiful as Ever.”

Excessive force is often used in the Drug War – and not just against isolated individuals. The libertarian CATO Institute has documented the enormous number of paramilitary raids – mainly involved in the War on Drugs. They cite an estimate of 40,000 paramilitary raids a year – including many which kill innocent bystanders or are raids on the wrong address. In an example from just a few months ago, police raided the home of the mayor of a small suburb outside of Baltimore and shot his dogs in search of marijuana. The mayor and his family were innocent, as were the dogs. One of the mayors neighbors said to him after the police raid: “If the police shot your dogs dead and did this to you, how can I trust them?

At the same time, the Drug War has alienated a large segment of its population from its law enforcement and national security agencies. At times – especially as in the case of Tommy Chong – it seems to have become a surrogate for a culture war. Largely as a result of the War on Drugs, America has the largest incarceration rate of any nation in the world. Yet most offenders of drug laws are never imprisoned – as it is estimated that nearly 7% of Americans use illegal drugs every month. Among the Americans to cross into enemy lines in the War on Drugs include our last, current, and future presidents. The War on Drugs has created an adversarial relationship between the government and a large portion of Americans.

The failures of the Drug War haven’t yet affected the War on Terror because it has largely been seen as something “different,” something which unites all Americans, which transcends boundaries. Mobsters, drug dealers, smugglers, and even governors of Illinois may be threats to the rule of law and targets of law enforcement, but they, with law enforcement, see terrorists as enemies of civilization. The Sopranos illustrated this with a storyline in which a mobster is asked by the FBI to keep a lookout for suspicious activity – and he is eager to. But the War on Drugs keeps threatening to undermine this essential distinction, as law enforcement uses powers designated to it in order to fight terrorism for other ends.

The War on Drugs also competes with the War on Terror for government resources and attention. This refers not only to the degree to which the FBI, Customs, and local police forces must split their attention between the two Wars – thus shortchanging both, but also to the more formal war in Afghanistan. Our anti-drug policy is driving the poor farmers of Afghanistan to seek the protection of the Taliban according to President Hamid Karzai. At the same time, even as additional resources have been allocated at the federal level to combat terrorism, local police forces must now split their attention – and their efforts in the Drug War often undermine the trust they need to prevent a potential terrorist attack.

More insidious though is how the intersection of the War on Drugs and the incentives of drug trafficking create an infrastructure that can be used for terrorism as a Congressional report from 2004 explained. The enormous profits involved in drug trafficking have incentivized an industry dedicated to undermining our national security infrastructure – it has created experts in smuggling to get contraband through or around Customs and into America; it supports an industry of money laundering and of illegal weapons and false identifications. All of these are useful and often essential to a terrorist operation – and yet none of these could be adequately financed by terrorism alone. The efforts of the War on Drugs reveal weaknesses in our national security to drug dealers and terrorists alike. One of the authors of a study of America’s vulnerability to nuclear terrorism joked the best way to smuggle nuclear material into America would be in a package of cocaine. If America were to focus our national security efforts – including efforts to track suspicious money and to prevent smuggling on terrorist-related targets, less would be known of our capabilities.

The War on Drugs has failed in its objectives. It affects Americans unequally and unfairly. And it is making us less safe. There is an international consensus on the dangers of heroin and cocaine trafficking – and we should continue to combat them. But we stop fighting a “War on Drugs” that is undermining the War on Terror.

We must rationalize the drug laws – by equalizing the penalties across similar classes of drugs and by legalizing those drugs health experts agree are less dangerous and addictive while continuing to make efforts to reduce the demand for and smuggling of the rest. We must end the “War on Drugs” that is targeting a significant percentage of American citizens and helping to destabilize countries around the world. We must stop blurring the lines between our efforts to stop drug trafficking and the War on Terror. The best defense against terrorism is a people who trust law enforcement, respect the rule of law, and are knowledgeable about threats.

The War on Drugs is squandering this resource. Which is why we must end it.

[Picture licensed under Creative Commons courtesy of CmdrGravy.]

Illegal Drugs and the War on Terror

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

In researching a post I was working on, I came across a Congressional report from 2004 that I was surprised I hadn’t heard about. Entitled “Illicit Drugs and the Terrorist Threat: Causal Links and Implications for Domestic Drug Control Policy” [pdf], it lists five potential links between drug trafficking and terrorism:

  1. Supplying cash for terrorist operations;
  2. Creating chaos in countries where drugs are produced;
  3. Generating corruption in law enforcement, military, and other governmental and civil-society institutions that either build public support for terrorist-linked groups or weaken the capacity of the society to combat terrorist organizations and actions;
  4. Providing services also useful for terrorist actions and movements of terrorist personnel and material, and supporting a common infrastructure, such as smuggling capabilities, illicit arms acquisition, money laundering, or the production of false identification papers;
  5. Competing for law enforcement and intelligence attention.

The report focuses on how drug trafficking undermines the War on Terror – but it makes clear both the current quagmire that is the Drug War and the ways in which the incentives created by the War on Drugs undermine the War on Terror.

Now at first glance, it may seem as if the War on Terror and the War on Drugs should be benefit one another. After all, a successful policy that made heroin production and trade less profitable or more difficult would deprive the Afghan Taliban from one of their primary sources of cash. A successful anti-smuggling policy would make it harder for drugs to slip across the border as well as terrorists and weapons.

The Bush administration meanwhile has sought to conflate the two wars – for example, by running ads immediately in the aftermath of 9/11 claiming that drug money paid for terrorism1 and by repeatedly using measures from the Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism measures to go after drug offenses.

But looking more closely, one can see that the War on Drugs has often impeded the War on Terror in these very areas. For example, critics of the Bush administration’s drug policy in Afghanistan believe we are in fact driving poor farmers to seek the protection of the Taliban. By using laws designed for the War on Terror in the Drug War, it undermines claims that the War on Terror is “different” and should unite all of us. By using these new powers more often, law enforcement undermines it’s credibility. It’s a vicious cycle.

    1. At the time, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were not making money from the heroin trade however, so this was rather misleading. The Taliban in fact had prevented poppy-farming until they needed it as a source of revenue after they were ousted from power. The commercials based their claims on FARC in Columbia. []