FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Our Perverse War on Drugs

Perhaps the most humiliating legacy of our nation-building venture in Afghanistan is the stubborn narco-state flourishing under our noses. The opium crop in Afghanistan has doubled since US forces deposed the Taliban, and the drug trade threatens to dominate the country as never before when our forces leave in 2014. How did this happen?

By and large, it seems US forces followed a policy of turning a blind eye to the opium crop, on the premise that poor farmers are not our main enemies in Afghanistan, and attacking their livelihood would turn them to the Taliban. To combat opium production, our principal initiatives included helping farmers cultivate alternate crops, and setting up an independent court system to try traffickers. While these have shown some promise, progress has been slow, and funding for these programs is drying up. Crop eradication was on our minds, too, but we charged the Afghan forces with that task. Their efforts, however, have been undermined by political corruption on the ground.

Underscoring the futility of our drug war in Afghanistan is the impact of the current blight on opium poppies in the country. At first glance, this might sound like a God-send: crop eradication at its best. However, something happened that we American capitalists should have anticipated. With opium supply suddenly scarce, the price of the crop soared. This has in turn enriched –and entrenched—the big dealers, inspired farmers to double down on next year’s crop to make up for current losses, and likely attracted more people to the drug trade in a very poor country. The result of this blight illuminates the main problem of crop eradication: it drives up prices, providing more incentives surrounding the drug trade.

In Latin America, our anti-narcotic efforts have largely featured interdiction, eradication, and assaulting the drug gangs. Our tactics on this front were recently highlighted by reports of a bloody incident in Honduras where local forces, with US financing and support, have been intercepting drug traffickers from South America in the remote Honduran jungle. The Honduran forces mistakenly killed unarmed civilians while intercepting a drug shipment. Notable in our efforts in Honduras is the extensive involvement of the US military. The Honduran forces who conducted this raid flew out of one of the three bases the US military operates in that country. The forces were tipped off by our military’s Southern Command in Miami, carried to the location by State Department helicopters, and accompanied by DEA agents. For all intents and purposes, the US seems to be waging war in Latin America.

So far it seems the most obvious result of our aggressive approach in Latin America is increasingly grotesque violence. Since Mexico started its crack down on the drug cartels, thanks to US prodding and support, the country has suffered 50,000 deaths. Mexican cartels have exploded, resorting to mass killings, beheadings, mutilation—body parts found in bags in public squares—assassinations of government officials. Savage violence surrounding the drug trade is spreading through the countries of Central America as we ramp up interdiction efforts there. The brazen and pervasive violence is testimony to what’s at stake, namely, the incredibly lucrative US drug market. The sum total of our efforts in Latin America compounds the problem.

As the New York Times Magazine explained in a recent expose on the Mexican drug cartels (“The Snow Kings of Mexico”, 6/17/12), the cost of drugs on the street is largely determined by the amount of risk assumed in getting the product to market. So: make the risk greater and the prices rise; more dealers get involved, and jockey (or kill) for a piece of the action.

This is why, our former ambassador to Colombia has argued, we must pair our negative policies with economic development in Latin America. If we build schools and hospitals, and help develop businesses in the region, we can reduce incentives to enter the drug trade. And yet, as long as the drug trade remains so lucrative, it’s reasonable to suppose, incentives to enter it will always be powerful.

What strikes me in the many prongs of our current war on drugs is how we seem to focus on everything but ourselves—and go to great efforts in so doing. We monitor the nations our drugs come from, and toil to frustrate traffickers thousands of miles from our borders. We work to change the economic conditions on the ground in very poor nations—no small task—while poor neighborhoods at home beg for attention. We enlist our military, the largest in the world, to stem the flow of drugs northward. And none of it works. These efforts have the opposite effect of what we intend, for they drive up prices and stoke the drug trade. The traffickers will do anything to get the product to market as a result: Colombian gangs have built submarines for this purpose; the Mexican cartels use catapults to launch drugs over our multi-million dollar border fences.

We’d rather do anything but zero in on demand here, but it’s so clear this would be the cheapest, most direct, most effective, most humane solution. It makes you wonder if we want to win the war on drugs at all.

Firmin DeBrabander is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

SAVE BLACK MESA:

The Poster That Ignited the Radical Environmental Movement, signed by photographer Marc Gaede, available now at the CounterPunch Online Auction!

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
Graham Peebles
A Global Battle of Values and Ideals
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers Strike: Black Smoke Pouring Out of LAUSD Headquarters
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail