Source: Washington Post
Pubdate: Mon, 18 May 1998
Author: Terry M. Neal, Washington Post Staff Writer


McCaffrey's 'Tactics' on Needle Exchange Program Prompt Anger Among Advocates

National drug policy chief Barry R. McCaffrey staked out his position on
needle exchange programs, made his point to President Clinton and won his
battle last month. But the retired general may have made new enemies.

While Clinton did endorse needle exchanges as a means of curbing the spread
of AIDS, supporters were dismayed that he took McCaffrey's advice to leave
in place a ban on federal funds to finance the programs. Health and Human
Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, who announced the president's
decision, and others had argued that the programs can slow the spread of
disease without increasing drug abuse.

Some in the administration were outraged when they learned McCaffrey had
enlisted Republicans in his effort. Five members of the Congressional Black
Caucus called for his resignation.

On a recent afternoon, McCaffrey, who believes that needle exchange
programs send the wrong message to children and encourage drug abuse, was
not ready to give an inch.

"I feel very comfortable with Secretary Shalala's decision, because I think
it took the culture war out of the issue," he said, playing down his own
influence over Clinton's decision as well as Shalala's difference of
opinion. "And by the way, money was never at the heart of the debate."

When asked why needle exchange supporters were angry if funding was not an
issue, McCaffrey persisted: "It wasn't. What was really the debate was
whether the government gave legitimacy to this approach."

It was a curious answer that reflected what some detractors say is his
worst personality trait: unwillingness to acknowledge differences of opinion.

In calling on McCaffrey to resign, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) used
battlefield terminology to accuse McCaffrey of using "brutal tactics within
the administration to subvert a decision to fund needle exchange programs
that he must have learned in wars with real enemies. We put him on notice
that he has now made a new enemy. He started a new war with us, and we
intend to fight back."

Countered McCaffrey: "Drug policy is more than a function of the narrowest
possible analytical view of an event. That drug policy has ramifications
that are not only tactical but operational and strategic."

That was McCaffrey's way of explaining that it is his job to fight illegal
drug activity and his duty to weigh the implications of all policy
decisions related to drugs.

McCaffrey's words and actions during his two-year tenure as drug policy
chief have proved him to be one of the more enigmatic and unpredictable
members of the Clinton administration.

His critics charge that he is often intractable and self-righteous. Yet
many of them also say he has raised the profile of the position and brought
credibility to the administration's anti-drug efforts.

Two years ago, Clinton tapped him for the civilian job as director of the
Office of National Drug Control Policy. A hero of the Vietnam War and
Operation Desert Storm -- he was the most highly decorated and youngest
four-star general, having been awarded three Purple Hearts for being
wounded in action -- McCaffrey was an ideal choice for at least two
reasons: "Because I was confirmable by the Senate and . . I would take the
job," he chuckled.

McCaffrey said his decision to take the job was extremely difficult. "My
wife and I both couldn't sleep for two weeks," he said. "Both of us are
Army brats. I've been in uniform since I was 17." But he said he has
adjusted well to civilian life.

One of the most commonly told stories about McCaffrey is his 1969 wounding
in Vietnam, where he commanded a rifle company. A heavy-caliber bullet
shattered bone and left his right arm dangling by the flesh. Refusing to be
evacuated, he insisted on fighting through the day until the next morning,
when he finally passed out.

McCaffrey also led the famed "left hook" operation that trapped the Iraqi
army's Republican Guard in Operation Desert Storm.

Further, he had bipartisan political experience, working for the Joint
Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George Bush and Clinton. McCaffrey headed
the U.S. Southern Command in Panama, which, among other things, led drug
interdiction efforts in Latin America, when Clinton nominated him for the
drug policy post.

Few anticipated then that McCaffrey would be so politically canny and
exhibit such an independent streak.

McCaffrey began using his leverage even before he took the job, exacting a
promise from Clinton to restore the office to its previous staff size of
about 150. A victim of early 1990s budget cuts, the office was down to
fewer than 40 employees under its previous director, Lee P. Brown.

Then McCaffrey bucked the tough-guy military stereotype by declaring the
term "war on drugs" a misnomer and vociferously promoting prevention and
treatment programs as a crucial element of the nation's anti-drug effort.

"Is there a general in charge? Will we achieve total victory? Who is the
enemy? How will we focus violence and surprise in a lightning campaign?
None of these aspects of the metaphor are useful to organized thinking on
what is a very complex social, legal, international and health policy
issue," McCaffrey, 55, said.

A more useful metaphor, he said, is to compare the problem to cancer. Most
people have "seen it in their families. Thank God, they haven't seen war."

In the job, McCaffrey has successfully pushed for budget and staff
increases, and championed tougher border control efforts. He led the push
for congressional approval last year of $195 million for the first year of
a five-year national anti-drug media campaign.

"Without [McCaffrey], and without the bipartisan support of Congress, this
wouldn't have happened," said Steve Dnistrian, senior vice president of the
nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which worked with McCaffrey
on the media plan.

Dnistrian admits there was skepticism about appointing a general as head of
the drug policy office, but said, "We were so pleasantly surprised when we
got to know the man, his experience and his intellect."

But others remain angry about his efforts to block federal funding for
needle exchange programs.

"It's one thing to have a view on a policy decision and argue for it
internally. It's quite another to go to the Hill and Republican members and
get them to do something while it's still being discussed internally," said
an HHS official who asked not to be identified. "That was not particularly
loyal or useful."

McCaffrey defended his actions: "Let me be absolutely blunt now. By law, I
am a nonpolitical officer of government. And the president of the United
States told me to work these issues with a bipartisan approach."

His opposition to the funding also caused a rift with an important ally of
his office, the Congressional Black Caucus. In one recent conversation,
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said, McCaffrey repeatedly interjected
comments about his membership in the NAACP as she explained the importance
of needle exchange funding in urban black communities.

A letter he wrote to Waters in March said that in previous conversations,
she had "derided my membership in the NAACP" and "belittled my leadership
experience in the Armed Forces."

Officials in his office said last week that he is working to mend any rifts
with the caucus.

Some caucus members have praised McCaffrey while complaining that the
Clinton White House has not given him the support he needs to do the job.

"I'm not happy with the job the administration is doing. But I don't blame
him for that," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Clinton senior adviser Rahm Emanuel said McCaffrey didn't do anything
unusual in the needle exchange debate. "He made it clear that he would
support whatever position the president made," Emanuel said.

The needle exchange issue wasn't McCaffrey's first clash with
administration officials.

In November, McCaffrey challenged his former employer, the Pentagon, when
he refused to certify its proposed fiscal 1999 budget. He sought $141
million more for fighting illegal drugs and drug abuse than the $809
million Defense Secretary William S. Cohen had proposed.

McCaffrey enlisted key Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who
called Cohen's budget "inadequate." Eventually, the two sides compromised,
with the Pentagon adding about $73 million.

McCaffrey has been criticized and praised for efforts to build coalitions
with South and Central American governments. In one case, McCaffrey was
host to Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, then director of Mexico's anti-drug
effort, at the White House; soon after, the Mexican government acknowledged
that Gutierrez Rebollo had ties to Mexico's premier drug cartel.

"These are the people who are out there," a Pentagon official said in his
defense. "You can't embrace them, but on the other hand you can't shun
them. That's just how the world works."

Gen. Colin L. Powell, who promoted McCaffrey to be his top assistant when
Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called him "one of the
smartest officers I've known" and said he wasn't surprised that McCaffrey
has emerged as a forceful personality in his current job.

Said Powell: "He will do what he thinks is right and take the consequences
for it."


Barry R. McCaffrey

Title: Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Age: 55

Education: Bachelor's degree in engineering, U.S. Military Academy;
master's in civil engineering, American University.

Family: Married, with three grown children.

Previous jobs: General, Army; commander-in-chief of U.S. Army Southern
Command; director of long-range planning, Joint Chiefs of Staff; commanding
officer, 24th Infantry Division.

Hobbies: Running, reading.

On the fight against drug abuse: "That metaphor, 'War on Drugs,' I thought
was unhelpful to conceptually organizing an effort on the drug issue. I
tell people, I know all about war. I've been studying it or involved in it
since I was 17. ... The last thing it is is a war.

"All metaphors break down under intensive analysis. But a more useful one
is looking at cancer."

 Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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Checked-by: Mike Gogulski