Pubdate: Tue, 03 Feb 2009
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2009 The StarPhoenix
Bookmark: (Colombia)


If President Barack Obama is to succeed in convincing allies to pony up for
the war in Afghanistan, he must do better than to reinvent former president
George Bush's ill-conceived "War on Terror."

He will have to revisit America's much older and disastrous War on

The U.S. officially has fought the latter war starting with Richard
Nixon's presidency, when the fear of a country made of peaceniks and
hippies convinced the Republican leader to copy former president
Lyndon Johnston's short-lived but popular War on Poverty. Although the
battle against poverty was an unabashed failure, at least it didn't
cost the thousands of lives and countless years of lost freedoms
claimed by the war on drugs.

Estimates by the U.S. Justice Department put at more than a million a
year the number of Americans who spent at least some of their lives in
jail because of the drug policy adopted by Mr. Nixon and followed
since by each president. Simple possession of marijuana accounts for
the fourth highest number of arrests each year, and that doesn't even
begin to take into account the collateral damage to those caught in
the web of violence and crime associated with the illicit industry.

The U.S. isn't even considered on the front line of the drug war.
Across the Rio Grande River, more than 6,000 people were slaughtered
last year, including hundreds of Mexican police officers, many of whom
were tortured and mutilated because of the illegal drug industry.

Although it is estimated that the U.S. taxpayers already have
squandered half a trillion dollars in the war, there have been few
reported successes. In fact, by ignoring the best advice of its own
officials, the U.S. has contributed to the strengthening of an
industry that, over the years, has extended a minor political squabble
in Colombia into the longest-running insurrection in this hemisphere,
fuelled the insurgency in Afghanistan, disrupted attempts to govern
Southeast Asia and seriously damaged the economic benefits of the
third partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

It has also cost the lives of Canadian soldiers, who are under
instructions now to attack at will those Afghans who've been forced to
participate in the drug industry due to lack of alternative
opportunities and the determination of Taliban fighters to fund their
operations with the illegal trade.

The announcement of a "war on terrorism" is deemed to have been
foolish, because of the impossibility to measure successes in such an
endeavour. It is even more foolish to pretend that such a phony war
somehow can be won by putting even more soldiers into the field,
employing heavier military equipment and supporting the darkest of
regimes on the promise they'd become anti-narco allies.

For every gain in the drug war, there are a dozen losses. When the
U.S. got control of the privateers who ran cocaine through the
Caribbean, it caused a consolidation of illegal forces to spring up in
Mexico. When the U.S. focused on shutting down the Golden Triangle in
Southeast Asia, Afghanistan's fertile fields to sprang into poppy blossoms.

Not only has the drug industry contributed to the corruption -- and
retarded development -- of many of America's most important allies,
that corruption has crept into the highest offices in Washington. A
Senate committee report in 1989, for example, laid out how American
officials were contributing to drug smuggling through Central America
in order to fund the anti-Nicaraguan Contra forces.

When a government report suggested the best way to control the use of
cocaine in America was to address head-on the domestic social and
violence problems, lobbyists convinced the White House instead to buy
Connecticut-made, Sikorksy Blackhawk helicopters at $15 million each
as a part of the much-maligned anti-drug effort, the $1.6 billion Plan
Colombia. This just convinced the FARC rebels to step up their illegal
activities, buy better arms and work harder to protect the cocaine

There is no question that the fortune in drugs produced in the Andes,
grown in Mexico or coming out of Afghanistan and northern Cambodia,
are having a devastating impact on the lives and health of millions of
Europeans, North Americans and Asians.

But in the 37 years since Mr. Nixon launched the war on drugs, the one
thing that consistently has been clear is that the policy of
heightened violence and increased incarceration is an abysmal failure.

President Obama, who has control over all three levers of American
government, is the first U.S. leader in four decades with the
political clout and the academic research to do something about this.

The question is whether he can muster up the will.

- - - -

"Democracy cannot be maintained without its foundation: free public
opinion and free discussion throughout the nation of all matters
affecting the state within the limits set by the criminal code and the
common law." - The Supreme Court of Canada, 1938
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin