Good or Bad for the Jews

"Good or Bad for the Jews"

Many years ago, and for many years, I would travel to Morocco to visit uncles, cousins, and my paternal grandmother. Some lived in Tangiers;...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On Drugs

I have written about the foolish "war on drugs" before but take advantage of the just released report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy to return to the subject.  As a rule, I dismiss these grand reports by international commissions of prominent persons. Such reports are usually full of the most conventional of conventional left-of-center views and almost always advocate massive government expenditures on absurd programs.  This report, however, is somewhat different.  It advocates governments and international bodies around the world stop doing something. That "something" is the so-called "global war on drugs" (GWOD).  The report states on its very first page,
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed. Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. 
That is pretty blunt for an international report. It has some of the usual conventional blather about HIV/AIDS and relies, I think, on increasingly dubious science about HIV/AIDS. Never mind, I'll give them a pass on that as they conclude that the drug issue should be one of education and health, not one of police action.

The Commission is made up of an interestingly diverse group of prominent people, including George Schultz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Kofi Annan, Paul Volcker, and three former presidents, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico,  Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, and Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland, among others.  All but one of the politicians are "former" or "ex,"which highlights another problem with the war on drugs.  Politicians are afraid to make the recommendation to put an end to the GWOD while they are in office.  The exception is George Papandreu, the PM of Greece. I guess he figures that Greece has so many other issues going on, nobody will notice he is advocating an end to the GWOD.

This "ex" phenomenon was driven home to me this past week after a series of meetings I had in Washington.  It seems that once out of office or in private just about everybody is willing to concede that the GWOD is a horrendous, expensive, and destructive affair, but all seem to agree that for an active politician openly to state that is the equivalent of standing on the third rail.  I wonder about that. If you could get a few brave Republican and Democratic pols to come forward and cite the Commission report, and produce the stats on what this GWOD is costing us as a nation, I think the American people would listen. The problem would be, of course, if it's not bipartisan or nonpartisan, then one side or the other will demagogue away.

In my Foreign Service career I have been involved in the GWOD. I have administered counternarcotics programs to cut, spray, or otherwise remove coca and marijuana crops; train foreign cops, military, and intel personnel; and helped fund DEA operations overseas.  I have gone along on operations in Central America and the Andes and seen the GWOD up close. It's expensive, often dangerous nonsense that provides a living for tens-of-thousands, maybe hundreds-of-thousands of bureaucrats around the world, and does little to reduce drug consumption or production.

Let's end the GWOD.


  1. Let's say we could somehow be talked into doing just that. Ending it.

    What next? Doing nothing would seem to be the most reprehensible and craven thing we could do, leaving drug purveyors running unfettered through society. Drop the next shoe! Or is that it? Just give up.

  2. Patrick ArmstrongJune 6, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    There is a historical precedent after all and that's Prohibition. It didn't work and its lasting legacy is the Cosa Nostra which was able to transform itself from small protection rackets in neighbourhoods into a nation-wide organisation. I do not recall that there are fights and murders in Islay -- the distillers there get on quite peacefully. Booze is by far the biggest killer, in various ways, and its consumption is more or less regulated by taxes.

    But the WoD is one of the few things that both left and right seem to agree on.