Monday, November 03, 2014

Reassessing the Drug War (Or Not)

Check out Russell Crandall's article in The American Interest on the drug war. Great, nuanced stuff. The core of the argument is that the Obama Administration talks about changing the thrust of this war and gradually (but haltingly) has done so at home, but the militarized approach in Latin America remains unchanged and unquestioned.

It is simply not enough for the Obama Administration to tell the American public that it has “reason to be optimistic” about future drug abuse containment efforts, but then never reconcile this expectation to what the data actually tell us. Rosy predictions also undercut any effort to assess whether the amounts we spend on the effort are worth it. If cocaine use decreases but marijuana use grows over a given period, is that progress? Does that justify the budget expense? We don’t know, because we don’t even ask those kinds of questions. So we don’t know if the money could have been better used on one of the innovative programs that the Administration is so enthusiastically promoting, like drug courts or fair sentencing. Nor does the strategy address the obvious question of whether the drop in U.S. cocaine consumption simply reflects a shift to another substance. 
Since the strategy mutes any connection to what happens in Latin America, the attentive public also cannot readily know that, while domestic cocaine consumption has dropped by half, there has been a concomitant spike in consumption in Brazil and Colombia. Another less publicized development that might dampen our optimism is that Evo Morales’s Bolivia no longer cooperates with Washington on the drug front. That almost no Bolivian cocaine makes its to the United States (American consumption is almost exclusively from Colombian product) likely explains why Washington did not make more of the reality that the U.S.-led drug war is no longer operating in that heretofore vital South American “source” country—not because of any success it scored, but only because commercial patterns changed. 
Innovative programs or Sweden-style rhetoric aside, there is and will continue to be an inertial and almost impregnable military-narcotics-industrial complex, especially on the international side of the drug war—though it will always get less attention than the domestic side of drug policy, especially when punctuated from time to time by Mountain Sweep-style media spectaculars. The Obama Administration has shown that we can embrace, at least tentatively, a more holistic approach to our domestic issues. The question, though, is whether we have the courage to apply a new approach within the broader war on drugs, and tell the American people that the old way of doing things in Latin America just doesn’t work. Only courage can enable change. So far there is no sign of it.

He's right. Almost nobody anywhere beyond activists and concerned academics are asking the right questions. Plus, the phrase "inertial and almost impregnable military-narcotics-industrial complex" hits the nail on the head.

This means that at least for now we're stuck. It is incredibly difficult to get Congress and senior policy makers on board for a real rethinking of U.S. counter-narcotics policy in Latin America. Like so many other militarized programs, many are afraid to change because they'll be labeled as soft. That's one reason that long, counter-productive wars (from Vietnam to Iraq) drag on.

Sadly, we don't even know if we're "winning" because we've never defined winning. So you keep on fighting for the sake of fighting, of doing something.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP