Pubdate: Thu, 21 Dec 2000
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2000 San Francisco Chronicle
Contact:  901 Mission St., San Francisco CA 94103


COLIN POWELL faces a dilemma. America's military engagement in Colombia does
not meet the criteria laid out in his well-articulated "Powell Doctrine."

In the aftermath of his military experience in Vietnam, the soon-to-be
secretary of state developed a clear and simple way to determine when
military force should be used:

As a last resort, with the full support of the public, and with a
well-planned exit strategy.

So far, the U.S.-backed war in Colombia, funded with $1.3 billion approved
by Congress in June, is on a collision course with the Powell Doctrine.

This week's series in The Chronicle about that war, by staff writer Robert
Collier, showed that President Andres Pastrana's weakened government can no
longer protect its citizens. Inside Colombia, there is escalating
instability, commonplace corruption and widespread violations of human
rights -- by all sides. Every year, 25,000 Colombians die from violence. The
country's homicide rate is among the highest in the world. More than half of
the world's kidnapping takes place inside Colombia -- it is an important
source of funds for the two major armed guerrilla forces.

The result of the deadly chaos is that 1.5 million people have fled their

The American engagement in Colombia is rife with futility. The goal is to
cut off the supply of cocaine. To accomplish that, the U.S. must train
soldiers in counterinsurgency tactics against armed guerrillas who protect
coca-growing peasants. But such military attacks -- especially from
helicopters -- increase the level of violence for ordinary citizens.

Aerial fumigation of coca fields frequently destroys edible crops as well,
leaving peasants without a secure food supply. As the army swoops down on
their villages, hungry peasants have little choice: Either flee and join the
displaced or else take up arms with rebel forces.

To have a real impact on the traffic in drugs, the United States would have
to wage a war against the giant narco-agriculturalists and the paramilitary
forces that protect them. But this is not part of "Plan Colombia." The
battle is against those who want land reform, not those who already own huge
coca plantations. The struggle is also to secure access to oil and gas,
which the United States regards as vital to this country's national

But fighting a war isn't the solution anyway. As long as Americans crave
cocaine, farmers in Colombia -- and elsewhere -- will continue to cultivate
the lucrative coca leaves from which the drug is processed.

This is the quagmire faced by Powell, whose widely cited doctrine is
completely at odds with the war in Colombia: Military intervention here is
not a last resort. The United States has brushed aside the call by European
and Latin American nations for an international negotiated peace agreement.

The American public does not support this military engagement. In fact, most
Americans hardly know it is happening.

Finally, there is no apparent exit strategy. The goal of the Colombian army
is to destroy farmers' coca fields and defeat guerrilla forces, both of
which can move deeper into the rain forests. Attrition, as we witnessed in
Vietnam and El Salvador, seems to be the only measure of military "success."

Colombia poses a major challenge for the Bush administration. As a new
secretary of state, Powell could help lead the United States back from an
ill-conceived, expensive military intervention that threatens to spill into
other Andean countries.

In the end, only a negotiated peace settlement that addresses land reform
and economic inequality will end the 36-year-old civil war that has
devastated Colombia.

Powell has created a clear and compelling doctrine for deciding when to use
military force. Now he has a chance to put into practice the very sound
principles he has proposed. May he succeed.
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