Pubdate: Mon, 12 Oct 2009
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Mary Anastasia O'Grady


The Former Secretary of State Has Long Doubted the Wisdom of Interdiction.

When George P. Shultz took office as Ronald Reagan's secretary of 
state in 1982, his first trip out of the country was to Canada. His 
second was to Mexico.

"Foreign policy starts with your neighborhood," he told me in an 
interview here in the Canadian capital last week. "I have always 
believed that and Ronald Reagan believed that very firmly. In many 
ways he had [the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement] in his 
mind. He paid a lot of attention to both Mexico and Canada, as I did."

Mr. Shultz, now a co-chair of the North American Forum--which pulls 
together members of the business and government community for an 
annual pow-wow--is still paying a lot of attention to the American 

These days that means taking seriously the problem of 
drug-trafficking violence on the Mexican border. "It's gotten to the 
point that . . . you've got to be worried about what's happening to 
Mexico, and you've got to realize that the money that's financing all 
that comes from the United States in terms of the profits from the 
illegal drugs. It's not healthy for us, let alone Mexico, to have 
this violence taking place."

Mr. Shultz carries weight on this issue, in part because he has been 
thinking about it critically for decades and listening to our 
neighbors' viewpoints. He has long harbored skepticism about 
interdiction as a solution to drug abuse in the U.S. Those doubts 
were prescient.

In 1988, Mr. Shultz recalls, he traveled to Mexico for the 
inauguration of President Carlos Salinas. After the ceremony they had 
a private conversation. "He said to me that he understood it was 
important for Mexico to do what it could to stop the flow of drugs 
into the United States. But he wanted me to know that the funds to 
support all that traffic came from the United States to Mexico." Mr. 
Shultz says that around the same time he heard a very similar refrain 
from the president of Colombia, Virgilio Barco.

Mr. Salinas also warned the secretary that Americans should realize 
they are not immune: "This problem will spill across. Drug gangs will 
eventually be in the United States."

In recent years, Mr. Shultz says, "There has come to be more and more 
of a realization of the nature of the problem. I thought it was 
interesting six or eight months ago, that three former presidents of 
Latin American countries, President Zedillo from Mexico, President 
Cardoso from Brazil and President Gaviria from Colombia made a report 
basically saying that we have to look at this problem in all of its 
dimensions if we are going to get anywhere with it. And we have to 
realize what its origins are."

Yet it is also true that those presidents spoke up only after they 
left office. I asked him if there is any hope of policy leadership 
from those in office. "There is a certain amount of evidence that 
people are realizing the nature of the problem and have more of a 
willingness to try to deal with it."

But, he says, we still have not created the "political space" 
necessary to raise the issue in public. "Right now if you are in 
politics you can't discuss the problem. It's just poison. The result 
is that we have this giant problem that is tearing Mexico apart . . . 
and we have plenty of problems here too and we're really not having a 
debate about it."

Mr. Shultz is a strong proponent of education to reduce demand. "If 
we want to get serious about this issue, we should start with a 
gigantic campaign to persuade people that drugs are bad for them. And 
it has to be based on solid factual material. You can't try to mislead people."

Yet that's been difficult because of the taboo. Mr. Shultz recalls 
what happened shortly after he left government, when his view that 
interdiction is not the solution came up after a speech to a Stanford 
alumni group.

Then, as now, he believed that we need to look at the problem from an 
economic perspective and understand what happens when there is high 
demand for a prohibited substance. When his comment hit the press, he 
says he "was inundated with letters. Ninety-eight percent of them 
agreed with me and over half of those people said I'm glad you said 
it, but I wouldn't dare say it. The most poignant comment was from [a 
former member of the House of Representatives] who wrote and said I 
was glad to see your statement. I said that a few years ago and 
that's why I'm no longer a congressman!"

I asked Mr. Shultz if he thinks a more sensible approach might come 
from the states. He says "people can express themselves a little 
better at the state level." And, with respect to some liberalization 
of the drug-possession laws at the state level, "I regard these 
developments as a distinctive statement by people that the present 
system is not working very well and they want to change it."
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