By Mike Pesca, in for Tom Ashbrook, On Point website, November 16, 2011
The war on drugs is now being fought like the war on terror – with armed soldiers instead of cops.
The war on drugs is beginning to resemble a real war now more than ever before. Its not just the horrifying death toll in places like Mexico and Honduras, it’s the method of American interdiction: Small, commando-style units have busted drug rings and killed dealers in foreign countries. Nations. Anti-drug agencies are taking a page from the counter-terrorism playbook.
But the conflicts are different and the tactics don’t always translate. As one critic of the new war on drugs says, its impossible to kill your way out of this problem
The war on drugs is beginning to resemble a real war now more than ever before. Its not just the horrifying death toll in places like Mexico and Honduras, it’s the method of American interdiction: Small, commando-style units have busted drug rings and killed dealers in foreign countries. Nations. Anti-drug agencies are taking a page from the counter-terrorism playbook
But the conflicts are different and the tactics don’t always translate. As one critic of the new war on drugs says, its impossible to kill your way out of this problem.
This hour, On Point: The battle over the war on drugs.
Guests on the program today include:
Steven Dudley, co-director of InSight, a joint initiative of American University and the Fundación Ideas para la Paz in Colombia, South America, aimed at monitoring, analyzing and investigating organized crime in the Americas.
Bruce Bagley, professor of international relations and chair of the department of international studies at the University of Miami.
James Poulos, a columnist at The Daily Caller and a contributor at Ricochet. his recent article in Foreign Policy is “Gateway Interventions: Drones along the Mexican border, commandos in Central America — the war on drugs looks more than ever like a real war. But do Americans have any idea what they’re getting into?”
From The Reading List
The New York Times “The D.E.A. now has five commando-style squads it has been quietly deploying for the past several years to Western Hemisphere nations — including Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Belize — that are battling drug cartels, according to documents and interviews with law enforcement officials.”
Foreign Policy “The war on drugs has settled — along with the drug trade it seeks to combat — into something that far exceeds the ambit of mere law enforcement, yet falls far short of necessitating the mobilization, intensity, and mission clarity found in a proper war. It has long blurred the distinction between police action and armed conflict. The same drones patrolling the Pakistani frontier cruise the Mexican border. Domestic SWAT teams now frequently conduct no-knock raids in American hometowns reminiscent of U.S. tactics during the worst days of the Iraq war. ”
InSight “To be fair, there are some parts of the strategy that are positive. There is a clear recognition that transnational organized crime (TOC) is a potent force that undermines communities, governments, and economies across the globe. There is also a recognition that this is a complex, multi-layered problem that requires an equally complex multi-layered solution."
So you thought the U.S. was flying drones and killing suspects only in Pakistan and Afghanistan....well think again...the U.S. is engaged in a quasi-military-quasi-police operation with commando units in five countries in Central America, as well as drones along the border with Mexico, attempting to interdict the shipment of illegal drugs into the U.S. Talk about supply economics!
It is the consumers, the Americans themselves, who are using, buying, selling and profiting (in the short run) from the access to these drugs, and much of the organized crime is behind many of the deals.
So a not-so-ridiculous question might be: "Which is a greater threat to the U.S., the AlQaeda terrorists or the drug dealers?"
Another equally sane question might also be: "Which is a greater threat to the U.S., the millions of consumers of illicit drugs in the U.S., most of them American citizens, or the Drug dealers? Or the AlQaeda terrorists?
Bombs falling out of drones along the border with Mexico will not deter U.S. citizens from their addiction to illicit drugs!
Commando units fighting in five Central American countries will not deter U.S. citizens from their addiction to illicit drugs!
While the Obama Administration dislikes the use of the term "War on Drugs," ironically, they have continued and even enlarged the scope of that war, following in the footsteps of the Bush Administration that preceded them.
If there were no market for these drugs inside the U.S., there would be no need for the expensive operations that fall between a "police" action and an "armed conflict." Once again, the U.S. is not "technically" at war with the Central American countries where they are fighting a near armed conflict with civilians. They are, however, deeply in conflict with the drug dealers, the traffickers, and yet, the U.S. seems either unwilling or unable or some combination of both, to mount an social-service offensive against the use of these drugs. There are nevertheless efforts at the street level to reduce drug dependency, albeit quite miniscule, compared with the heavy metal that is raining down in some areas.
The fact that increased incarcerations do not work at reducing drug dependence seems not to have dawned on the Administration, so intent is it upon garnering the support of the potential independent voter, through conspicuous and perpetual headlines, or even back-page stories that say, "See, we are doing something to reduce the impact of the drug problem in our cities.
Resorting to both commando and drone approaches, is another example of a systemic knee-jerk response, couched in terms the public blithely, and perhaps blindly too, accepts as "doing something" similar to dropping thousands of bombs on Iraq starting in 2003, following the 9/11 tragedy.
Individuals who are dependent on illicit drugs are a dramatic symptom of a social, cultural, political, spiritual and economic malaise that is eating away, like a rampant cancer tumour, at the internal organs of the United States. And while that metaphor may sound melodramatic, and cliche, (because it is!), there is a serious case to be made that looking internally might be an appropriate place to begin, in allocating dollars, in training professionals, in working with existing organizations in a broad-based community initiative, including service clubs, churches, schools, colleges and athletic organizations in a complex, long-range, sustainably funded, and professionally designed and executed national program, tweeked by the professional in all 50 states, that accepts targets for success, that accepts responsibility for treatment, including unconventional and even experimental approaches, appropriate for doctoral candidates, to fight the tumour within.
Of course, such an idea would require the Tea Party to permit legislation and funding to pass through the Congress, something none of us will see in our lifetime. Such an idea would also require a gathering of the best brains, from sources both within and without the U.S. borders, (and what U.S. professional would allow that a "foreign" expert would have answers appropriate for his/her country?)....Also, the media, addicted to its own kind of drug, the power of the dramatic headline, especially those that fail (see Solyndra) would have to exercise a kind of patience, cover the amoeba-like progress of such a program as if it were (as it is) truly important, and perhaps even more important that drones over Mexico's northern border.
And then, law enforcement would have to be retrained to modify their "arrest and convict and incarcerate" approach, leading to a blending of their intelligence and their investigative skills with the professional, psychiatric, social worker, clergy and even teacher expertise (all of it 'soft' compared to their 'hard' power) in order to make such a program even enter the incubator of the social planners.
And all of that would require an "enlightenment" movement, similar to the enlightenment of the 18th century, so solidly grounded on disciplined thought, disciplined methodologies, and disciplined political leadership and vision, none of which has any potential lifeblood in the American political anatomy, and has not had for at least a decade or more.
So, folks, have another glass of wine, take a walk in the park of your choice, and dream of a day, long ago in recorded time, when both the ugly data of use and the even uglier data of "enforcement" were not part of the daily discourse, the state or national budget and the carping critics like your current scribe.