Pubdate: Sun, 08 Mar 2009
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2009 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
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 the
recent Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

We're used to thinking about death and destruction thousands of miles
from home and, as a result, we tend to debate these matters based
more on glancing impressions drawn from newspapers, television or Web
sites rather than personal knowledge or the knowledge of people who
live in war zones.

But what if I mentioned that thousands of people have been killed --
7,337 at last count -- since 2007 in open warfare along our own
southern border?

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 bloody
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, to cities such as Dallas, Atlanta and Sioux  Falls, S.D.,
where Mexican drug gangs have murdered and abducted people.

Here in Southern California, 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 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

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.

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 being fought over drug turf today 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," Hornberger continued, "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."

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"; and "Mexican police linked to rising

I think back to ancient history -- the early days of the 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.

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."

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 an editorial writer and columnist  with the Orange
County Register.
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