When a “Surge” takes place so close to home, we should pay attention. We should demand that our media pay more attention. And then we should ask — how did we get here? Then we must discuss whether it would be “waving the white flag” — as Mr. Buchanan submits below — if we attempt to change the trajectory for good.
Of course I’m talking about what they are calling a “Surge” at the Mexican border — 5,000 Mexican troops now encamped at Ciudad Juarez, where according to some estimates, 250 people have been slain since Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has asked Washington for 1,000 troops (he said he doesn’t care whether they are federal, National Guard or border patrol) for El Paso, which is separated from Juarez by a stretch of the Rio Grande. He has also asked his legislature for $135 million to pay for increased border security — to go after the gangs, employ new technology and for “aviation assets.”
Perry was joined on the podium at the recent press conference by former Drug Czar and Pentagon Message Force Multiplier Barry McCaffrey, who chimed in not atypically for someone who ran the War on Drugs out of Washington like William Westmoreland ran Vietnam:
“It is very likely that the levels of violence in Mexico will worsen,” McCaffrey said on Feb. 19. “We in the United States must be prepared to provide whatever assistance the government of Mexico requires to defeat these criminal organizations.”
As Mr. Buchanan predicts, there are folks at the Pentagon who have already signaled cross-border military operations in Mexico if things get worse. “Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone,” said a report issued in November by U.S Joint Forces Command.
From the news today, and the frequency with which we are hearing the words “failed state to the west,” that time may not be far off. In Juarez this week, the Surge began, but it didn’t stop a massacre inside the prison there. Reportedly, 150 members of one gang commandeered the sprawling overcrowded jail for three hours while it set about beating, stabbing and throwing rival gang members from the roof. A total of 20 inmates were killed until Mexican troops were able to take back the facility.
An estimated 10,000 Mexicans were killed in drug violence in the past two years — close to 1,900 in Juarez alone, according to the federal Mexican National Commission of Human Rights. For most Americans, led by a Walking Dead (and completely compliant) corporate media that never reaches anywhere beyond the “D.A.R.E to Keep Kids Off Drugs” liturgy for analysis, this is just another front in the Drug War, and when Uncle Sam calls we open up the treasury.
The U.S spent about $15 billion in the Drug War last year: over a billion each for the Department of Defense and the State Department, over $3.3 billion for the Department of Justice and $3.4 billion for the Department of Homeland Security. In 2008, Congress gave an initial $400 million to Mexico and $65 million to Central America, the Dominican Republic and Haiti as part of the $1.6 billion Merida Initiative.
All combined, it is far more than the $3.4 billion given to the Department of Health and Human Services last year to help addicts. Instead, thanks to the Drug War, as a nation we put more of a percentage of our population in jail than any other country in the world — more than 2.3 million incarcerated as of last year. A record. If the Drug War really sprang out of the impulses of Buchanan’s “Christian America” the circumstances today sadly suggest otherwise.
Growing up in a town awash in cocaine in the 80’s and 90’s, heroin over the last decade, watching neighbors turn into cat burglars, classmates into vegetables, colleagues into fiends, I know drug addiction is no joke. But at some point one steps back and questions why the drug lords continue to proliferate in luxury and the military and law enforcement industry get flush with tax dollars, while individuals, families and communities continue to suffer under a rubric that disfavors treatment, resulting in insufficient resources, neglected and ineffective institutions and cynicism all the way.
But I don’t think it’s enough anymore to say all this constitutes a losing either/or proposition: that we keep fighting an unwinnable and self-destructive war or sell crack cocaine like Budweiser in the local Safeway.
We need to have a healthy, national debate about whether prohibition works. Mr. Buchanan mentioned briefly the 13-year alcohol prohibition, but said nothing about the circumstances of its final repeal.
There is nothing cowardly or immoral about looking at Juarez across the Rio Grande and our swollen prisons and our ineffective treatment of addicts and saying there must be another approach, to the Drug War itself and to the personal use of different drugs in this country. Plenty of cities and states across here have begun. With 13 states having passed medical marijuana bills in the last 13 years, and small marijuana decriminalization efforts happening all the time, it is not a foreign discussion among many Americans who see the way we are doing things now as futile, punitive and unfair.
California, which is so poor it was forced to suspend payment of residents’ tax refunds and welfare checks, is certainly leading the way in this regard — legislators want to legalize and regulate marijuana once and for all , taking advantage of what could be $14 billion in taxable marijuana revenues. They pretty much have de facto legalization there now, and many medical marijuana dealers are already paying taxes as a legal precaution. Why not make it official and bring the entire industry into the light?
Is it offensive to large swaths of that state? Sure. Confusing to many Americans who may have not kept up on all the research and refutations that suggest pot is no more harmful — perhaps less so — than legal alcohol consumption? Absolutely. Could California get away with it? Not sure Gov. Schwarzenneger would even sign it and marijuana is still illegal according to the federal government. Backed by the U.S Supreme Court, the feds have been quite willing to raid doctor’ offices, medical marijuana dispensaries and even terminally ill patients’ homes to get their point across. But it’s not off the table, yet.
But more to the point, Americans are at least beginning to recognize there are alternatives, that the War on Drugs, like our recent military forays into Central Asia and Iraq, has yielded little return. The demand for illicit drugs in America has instead fueled a $400 billion global industry that seemingly cannot be stopped, even by war or occupation. As Alan Bock states in his recent piece for Antiwar.com, “There are people who are willing to lie, cheat, torture, and kill for the kind of money that can be made dealing in illicit drugs, and until end times or utopia, there always will be.”
Reexamining the Drug War is not a liberal cause — there are many conservatives (Buchanan mentions Milton Friedman), who believe that it is a black hole, and marijuana prohibition one of the most curious and untenable aspects of it all. There are the intellectual arguments, like those of the late William F. Buckley Jr., who called for the repeal of the federal marijuana prohibition. Then there’s the practical reasoning, coming from members of congress like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, and former drug warriors like Mike Krause, who argues for states’ rights regarding medical marijuana, and for modifying drug sentencing laws to ease the societal and fiscal burden of overcrowded prisons.
Former federal prosecutor and Rep. Bob Barr lobbied on behalf of the Marijuana Policy Project in 2007, sharing his newly found libertarian impulses regarding the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s questionable youth anti-drug campaigns and the federal crackdown on medical marijuana. “(Government) has become significantly more invasive since 9/11, and government power over the medical use of marijuana is one of those areas” where federal authority over the states is being questioned by “a lot of conservatives and liberals alike,” he told me after leaving the Republican Party for the Libertarians in 2006.
President Obama has pledged to stop federal raids on medical marijuana facilities and harassing individuals. There is hope there. He does not, however, favor legalization or recreational use, and I dare say most Americans aren’t willing to discuss regulation, much less legalization of the real dangerous substances, like cocaine and crack, heroin, Meth and other drugs produced in a chem lab. Even shifting away from the zero-tolerance law enforcement approach regarding these drugs would be asking for a Hurculean test of faith. Many would say any move away from prohibition there, as Mr. Buchanan suggests, would be letting the devil in the front door.
Others would take one look at Juarez across the Rio Grande and say he is already here. In a “Christian America” where slavery was abolished, and yes, police can no longer imprison a man because he slept with another man in the privacy of his own home, there must be room for more humanity, for compassion and reason. Dare I say what is happening in the streets of Mexico and in our our prisons today is not even human, much less humane. I vote for a “Surge” of honesty, and see where it takes us.