Pubdate: Sun, 10 Nov 2002
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2002 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Steve Chapman


We knew terrorists would slaughter innocent people by the thousands, but 
who could have imagined the full depths of their depravity? We found out 
last week when John Ashcroft announced that people sympathetic to Al Qaeda 
have been trying to finance their operations not through bake sales or 
bingo nights, but by selling illegal drugs.

Now, the attorney general said, "the war on terrorism has been joined with 
the war on illegal drug use." What Ashcroft fails to notice is that the war 
on illegal drug use doesn't advance the war on terrorism. Just the 
opposite: It affords a continuing windfall to our enemies. In that respect, 
Al Qaeda can be grateful to Ashcroft for preserving what he called the 
"deadly nexus between terrorism and drug trafficking."

By his account, the government foiled two plots involving 
drugs-for-weapons. Two Pakistanis and a naturalized American were arrested 
for allegedly trying to swap large quantities of heroin and hashish for 
four Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which were supposedly going to be 
shipped to Al Qaeda.

In addition, he said, the government grabbed four men who were offering 
cash and cocaine in exchange for 9,000 assault rifles, 53 million rounds of 
ammunition, and other instruments of mayhem. These were to be used by a 
right-wing terrorist group in Colombia.

Whether the men arrested had ties to actual terrorists is not clear. But 
any jihadists who need a continuing stream of income can certainly find no 
better business than drug trafficking. It offers big profits, and it 
rewards those skills in criminality that they have worked so hard to acquire.

This bust dovetails with the ad campaign mounted by the White House Office 
of National Drug Control Policy. You know, the one that introduces Dan, who 
bought marijuana from a dealer who got it from a cartel that killed an 
entire family for getting in the way. "Drug money supports terrible 
things," says the voiceover. "If you buy drugs, you might too."

The message we get from the federal government is simple: Drugs are 
intrinsically evil, so evildoers are involved with them. But Ashcroft and 
his colleagues never seem to consider the real connection between drug 
trafficking and violent thuggery and how we might break it. To do so would 
force them to reconsider everything the government has been doing about 
drugs for decades.

Back in the 1920s, you may recall, organized crime was involved in 
manufacturing, smuggling and selling a different mind-altering substance: 
alcohol. But if terrorists today have no interest in peddling bootleg gin, 
it's not because Islam frowns on drinking. It's because there's no real 
profit left, because the stuff is legally available. Al Capone and Co. 
couldn't survive in the liquor trade without Prohibition.

Likewise, the war on drugs is the only thing that makes cocaine trafficking 
commercially enticing to the enemies of civilization. If stuffed animals 
were banned, they'd sell teddy bears, and they'd make good money doing it. 
The continuing efforts of governments to eradicate drugs make the business 
risky. That drives out everyone but hard-core criminals comfortable taking 
such risks. It also inflates profits to levels never dreamed of in normal 
markets, stimulating the interest of anyone not constrained by reverence 
for the law.

Police and prosecutors may try to put all the drug dealers in jail, but the 
strategy defeats itself. The fewer drug sellers, the higher the prices they 
can charge. The higher the prices, the more attractive it is to sell drugs, 
and the more people will want to do it. So every time police take one 
heroin merchant off the streets, another springs up to take his place.

The Taliban prospered for years from being the world's chief supplier of 
opium. Then, a couple of years ago, they decided to stamp out poppy 
farming--a step that prompted not only praise from the Bush administration 
but opened the way for millions of dollars in U.S. financial aid to 
Afghanistan. Is that what Ashcroft would call a joining of the war on 
terror and the war on drugs? In fact, there's no way to join the two 
successfully. The way to deprive terrorists and other criminal gangs of 
sustenance is to legalize and regulate the drugs we have tried to eliminate.

Instead, we keep pouring law enforcement dollars into efforts that won't 
put an end to drug use but will assure profits to traffickers, including 
people who are trying to kill us. The drug war supports terrible things. 
When our leaders persist in it, they do too.
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