Pubdate: Sun, 08 Mar 2009
Source: East Valley Tribune (AZ)
Copyright: 2009 East Valley Tribune.
Author: Steven Greenhut
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


When it comes to foreign affairs, Americans are used to debating
progress or setbacks in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or on the
Israeli invasion last month 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? Or that the grisly violence has reached close to areas within
the readership of this newspaper? What if I noted that the violence
has altered the lives of many of our 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 some of 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 average American - and the average
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.

I still receive many phone calls and e-mails from readers upset about
the "Mexican" situation, but they aren't talking about the 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.

No, 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 at a recent speech to an Orange County, Calif.,
trade association, there isn't a wall big enough to keep out the nasty
problems now 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's 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 even discuss the real answer, which is the
decriminalization of drugs. Indeed, it's 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's 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 those 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 the
violence outside their doors.

Americans need to stop being so 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 an entire justice system.

We don't see Budweiser dealers shooting it out on Main Street with
Miller dealers to control the beer trade. That's 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.

"During Prohibition, there were undoubtedly people . claiming, 'Booze
consumption is down. We're winning the war on booze. Al Capone is in
jail. We've got to keep on waging the war on booze until we can
declare final victory,'" wrote Jacob Hornberger, president of the
free-market Future of Freedom Foundation. "Fortunately, Americans
living at that time finally saw through such nonsense, especially
given the massive Prohibition-related violent crime that the war on
booze had spawned. They were right to finally legalize the manufacture
and sale of alcohol and treat alcohol consumption as a social issue,
not a criminal-justice problem."

I think back to ancient history - the early days of the George W. Bush
administration. Our new president touted America's special
relationship with Mexico and met several times with then-Mexican
President Vicente Fox in an effort to bring about a more open border
and better relationships between our two democracies.

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.

This is from the Los Angeles 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."

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
high time that Americans pay more attention to this problem.

Steven Greenhut is a columnist for The Orange County Register.
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