As the White House unveils “new policy” after “new policy,” a pattern develops resulting from the same small circle of authors.
The Afghanistan review was supposed to fundamentally alter the way America operates - and why - but strategically the mission remains perforated with impossible demands, unclear goals, exaggerated expectations, and artificial time-lines. The 2010 National Security Strategy dresses up world-wide militarism with sensible "whole-of-government" and sensitive multilateralism.
And the “War on Drugs,” though declared over, is anything but.
Yet real progress may find its way to the Drug War faster than Afghanistan or al-Qaeda’s many lairs. Unlikely a coincidence, the difference stems from where the American people exert the most power. Foreign policy is out of our hands except for public opinion polls, and even they only slow Washington’s march into foreign states.
But Californians can choose its own destiny and potentially effect all those caught up in a hemispherical drug war. Were they to pass the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 and decriminalize marijuana, the federal showdown would offer the first concrete indication of whether President Barack Obama is turning the “War on Drugs” into a public-health issue as promised.
Or reveal the contradiction of shifting minor funds into Mexico’s legal system while continuing to pump it with arms.
Many present and past US officials, including John Negroponte, and several experts went before Congress last Thursday to push the conversation from military aid towards government reform. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobsen told a Congressional hearing, "We are moving away from big ticket equipment" and towards “Mexican capacity to sustain adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights.”
Their testimony followed an interview with Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who declared the “War on Drugs” over in May 2009.
“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” he told the Associated Press almost exactly a year later.“Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."
But like how US Special Forces infiltrate hot spots around the world even as the “War on Terror” no longer exists, the “War on Drugs” keeps ticking in Washington and the US media’s actions. Ironic given that the media aims to sell Obama’s new policy. A Christian Science Monitor editorial, like many in the press, praises Mexico and particularly Jamaica for courageously standing up to drug lords at the behest of US extradition.
Interchanging America’s “War on Drugs” with Mexico’s very real drug, one linked to a wider regional war, CSM reveals how deceptively interchangeable these terms are. Though it would claim otherwise, the White House’s strategy remains fixated on law enforcement. Jamaica’s drug lords, like Mexico’s cartels, are ingrained in the political system.
Going after the biggest fish possible bears resembles to steroids - and their aftereffects - an ancient paradox between counter-terrorism (military operations) and counterinsurgency (non-military operations).
To be clear all efforts to bolster Mexico’s political and legal system must be made, otherwise unlimited military aid won’t create a lasting impact. And Obama’s public rhetoric, to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes,” is a step above the total oppression US drug users have been living under. The”War on Drugs” is manufactured repression against the American people, born by Richard Nixon’s need to distract from Vietnam and counter the countermovement.
Every president who followed him took up the torch. One mistake to cover another, all the burden fell on the American people. No wonder the “War on Drugs” failed so spectacularly.
Of the estimated $1 trillion spent in the last 40 years, according to the AP’s count, $20 billion went to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. $33 billion went to marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs (the AP notes, “High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970”).
Meanwhile $49 billion went to law enforcement along America's borders, $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, “about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana.” The estimate to incarcerate all offenders in federal prisons alone: $450 billion.
A battle itself is being waged over whether the “War on Drugs” is over. The White House has changed the language, as usual, but the numbers produce a clearer image. Counter-terrorism still triumphs over counterinsurgency.
Obama is looking to blow by the 50% mark, his rhetoric ultimately fatal if the plan is more law enforcement seasoned with token non-military aid. The AP reported, “most of the $310 million that the Obama administration seeks for Mexico in its 2011 budget request is aimed at judicial reforms and good governance programs.”
“Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.”
Reality drifts closer to false than true change. It would seem the White House, having loaded up on law enforcement, is now covering its tracks with supplementary aid to Mexico’s government. The AP reports are full of various NOG officials hailing Obama’s change in tone - and fretting over his paper trail.
But he may soon face a real test.
Unfortunately preliminary indications from Washington lean towards yet another battle, this time with Californians. Surely Obama is praying they vote down the decriminalization of marijuana; both he and his officials hate getting near the issue. The Congressional hearings have been dubbed "Beyond Merida,” which would seem perfect for November 4th, 2010, but not even in Kerlikowske’s world is this the case.
When chosen the Seattle Police Chief was hailed by The Seattle Times as scientific and apolitical.
“When Seattle voters were considering a ballot measure in 2003 to make marijuana possession a low law-enforcement priority, President George W. Bush's drug czar flew across the country to condemn the proposal. Don't expect a similar ‘war on drugs’ approach if Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske takes over the job after being nominated Wednesday by President Obama.”
Think again. He may not fly to San Francisco on the 4th, but Kerlikowske’s no fan of decriminalizing, taxing, or regulating marijuana either. The Obama administration is “very much opposed” to taxing and regulating marijuana he told The Washington Post, a stance he’s repeated since taking office.
Hillary Clinton has been known to strike down reporters’ questions of decriminalization with a flat “no.”
America's federal system will shine though if California votes yes. The pivotal moment could set off a chain reaction to Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, where lax marijuana laws already trend towards decriminalization. Other states are likely to take a serious look if California can generate a sizable tax revenue and contribute to reviving its depressed economy.
Reducing crime would be the second trend to monitor. Benefits theoretically reach into California’s judicial and penal system. Total influence on middle schools, high schools, and colleges remain unknown, but marijuana is already freely accessible. New laws can be enforced just like public intoxication.
Such a reaction ultimately creates the overriding benefit of reconfiguring how America debates, legislates, and regulates drug use and abuse. California would become the default experiment to see whether it could work.
As for Mexico’s drug war, decriminalizing marijuana is by no means a panacea, but rather one step in the right direction. Only one source of the cartels’ revenue would dry up. Decriminalizing methamphetamines, opiates, and cocaine is infeasible in a country as large as America; the environment will be far less controlled than Portugal. These drugs supersede marijuana and demand their own solutions.
The horizon would be wider though.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have taken a baby step in admitting the obvious - America’s demand for drugs is the root of Mexico’s drug war. Yet they offer, and likely possess, no practical solution to actually lower this thirst. If America can't control demand, the next best option appears to be controlling supply. The conflict demands a statesman’s leap.
Californians should pass the Tax Cannabis of 2010 Act and discover how serious Obama is in ending the “War on Drugs.” And how much power the people can take back.