Pubdate: Fri, 27 Feb 2009
Source: Monterey County Herald (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Monterey County Herald
Author: Steven Greenhut
Note: Steven Greenhut writes for The Orange County Register.
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


When it comes to foreign affairs, Americans are used to debating the 
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or on the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

We're used to thinking about death and destruction thousands of miles 
from home and, as a result, tend to debate these matters based more 
on glancing impressions, quick reads of newspapers and Web sites and 
sound bites, rather than personal knowledge or the knowledge of those 
who live in the countries at issue.

What if I mentioned that thousands of people have been killed -- 
7,337 at last count -- since 2007 in open warfare just a short drive 
from here? What if I noted that the violence has altered the lives of 
many neighbors, friends and co-workers, who have family members who 
dwell in the heart of the war zone? What if I added that, because of 
this war, we place our lives in jeopardy by simply visiting our 
favorite vacation spots? Would that cause you to think twice about 
your foreign-policy priorities?

I am referring, of course, to Mexico, which has turned into a horror 
show in the past couple of years. There's been sporadic news coverage 
of these events. But the typical American -- and the typical 
politician, for that matter -- doesn't seem attuned or interested in 
a human tragedy that's starting to spill not just across the border, 
but deeply into the American interior, to cities such as Dallas, 
Atlanta and Sioux Falls, S.D., where Mexican drug gangs have murdered 
and abducted people.

I still receive phone calls and e-mails from readers upset about the 
"Mexican" situation, but they aren't talking about beheadings, 
murders, kidnappings, assassinations of newspaper editors, gunfights 
in town squares between drug lords and the military, killings of 
bystanders and children, or about the huge numbers of Mexican police 
who work for the cartels.

They are referring to the immigration situation, and they generally 
are upset at the number of Mexican nationals who come north mainly to 
escape grueling poverty. But, as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 
pointed out in speech to an Orange County trade association, there 
isn't a wall big enough to keep out the nasty problems destroying Mexico.

Americans need to think more broadly about this matter. Since hearing 
Gingrich, I've been reading about, and fuming over, these horrors.

American policy -- in particular, the federal government's insistence 
on funding and fighting a drug war here and in pushing the Mexican 
government to battle the drug cartels down south -- has exacerbated 
the carnage in Mexico. That is not to reduce the responsibility of 
the evil folks committing evil acts.

But as Ted Galen Carpenter of the libertarian Cato Institute 
explained in a 2008 article for The National Interest, "U.S. policy 
seems to assume that if the Mexican government can eliminate the top 
drug lords, their organizations will fall apart, thereby greatly 
reducing the flow of illegal drugs to the United States." But 
Carpenter notes that cutting off the head of one drug Hydra leads 
only to more heads sprouting.

He gets to the real problem: "If Washington continues to pursue a 
prohibitionist strategy, which creates the enormous black-market 
profits in drug trafficking, violence and corruption will become a 
dominant and permanent feature of Mexican life."

Unfortunately, not many Americans on the political left or right are 
willing to discuss the real answer, which is the decriminalization of 
drugs. Indeed, it is hard to even get any support for the modest goal 
of allowing people to sell small amounts of marijuana to terminally ill people.

Yet it is the illegality of drugs that makes them so lucrative, and 
which assures that only the most vicious gangsters will thrive as the 
price goes ever higher. Even Americans who see Mexico merely in terms 
of illegal immigration ought to broaden their horizons. If the 
lawlessness down south isn't reduced, pressure will increase for 
immigration, legal or otherwise, as more Mexicans seek refuge from 
violence outside their doors.

Americans need to stop being childish about drug issues. Yes, drugs 
are bad, but some people will always use them. Government cannot stop 
this desire, and government interdiction efforts only succeed in 
raising the price of the contraband, which leads to an even bigger 
reason to violently fight it out over the market. It provides the 
money needed to buy off cops and corrupt a justice system.

We don't see Budweiser dealers shooting it out on Main Street with 
Miller dealers to control the beer trade. That is because beer sales 
are legal. That may seem absurd, but consider that the same sort of 
battles took place in the United States between bootleggers when 
alcohol was illegal in the 1920s and early 1930s.

If Americans can't figure out that the drug war is no different from 
the booze war, then we are destined to read more headlines such as 
these, which were taken from recent newspaper articles: "Mexican drug 
violence spills over into the U.S."; "Bloodshed on the Border: Life 
in Juarez, where drug violence has created the equivalent of a failed 
state on our doorstep"; "Mexico vs. drug gangs: A deadly clash for control."

I'd hate to think of this going on for years, but it probably will. 
The root of the problem -- drug prohibition -- seems obvious, but for 
some reason Americans and Mexicans are unwilling to consider an end 
to it. But even if few people are willing to discuss the solution, 
it's time that Americans pay more attention to this problem.

The idea seemed sensible, especially from the vantage point of 
Southern California, with its close connections and proximity to 
Mexico. The issues of the time -- illegal immigration, Bush's 
proposed guest-worker program and the plan to make it easier for 
Mexican trucks to travel into the United States -- were contentious, 
but seem like minor-league stuff compared to today's goings-on.

Now Tijuana and even Rosarito Beach are war zones. This is from the 
L.A. Times in October: "As Tijuana's latest flare-up in the drug war 
rages into its fifth week, with the death toll approaching 150, 
violence is permeating everyday life here, causing widespread fear, 
altering people's habits and exposing the city's youngest to carnage."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom