The Lost War–The War on Drugs

The Washington Post reviews why we are losing the war on drugs, noting that prohibition does not work:

Thirty-six years and hundreds of billions of dollars after President Richard M. Nixon launched the war on drugs, consumers worldwide are taking more narcotics and criminals are making fatter profits than ever before. The syndicates that control narcotics production and distribution reap the profits from an annual turnover of $400 billion to $500 billion. And terrorist organizations such as the Taliban are using this money to expand their operations and buy ever more sophisticated weapons, threatening Western security.

In the past two years, the drug war has become the Taliban’s most effective recruiter in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s Muslim extremists have reinvigorated themselves by supporting and taxing the countless peasants who are dependent one way or another on the opium trade, their only reliable source of income. The Taliban is becoming richer and stronger by the day, especially in the east and south of the country. The “War on Drugs” is defeating the “war on terror.”

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For the past three years, I have been traveling the world researching a book on the jaw-dropping rise of transnational organized crime since the collapse of communism and the advent of globalization. I have witnessed how a ferocious drug gang mounted an assault on Sao Paolo, closing the city for three days as citizens cowered at home. I have watched Bedouins shift hundreds of kilos of cocaine across the Egyptian-Israeli border on the backs of camels, and observed how South Africa and West Africa have become an international narcotics distribution hub.

The trade in illegal narcotics begets violence, poverty and tragedy. And wherever I went around the world, gangsters, cops, victims, academics and politicians delivered the same message: The war on drugs is the underlying cause of the misery. Everywhere, that is, except Washington, where a powerful bipartisan consensus has turned the issue into a political third rail.

The problem starts with prohibition, the basis of the war on drugs. The theory is that if you hurt the producers and consumers of drugs badly enough, they’ll stop doing what they’re doing. But instead, the trade goes underground, which means that the state’s only contact with it is through law enforcement, i.e. busting those involved, whether producers, distributors or users. But so vast is the demand for drugs in the United States, the European Union and the Far East that nobody has anything approaching the ability to police the trade.

Prohibition gives narcotics huge added value as a commodity. Once traffickers get around the business risks — getting busted or being shot by competitors — they stand to make vast profits. A confidential strategy report prepared in 2005 for British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet and later leaked to the media offered one of the most damning indictments of the efficacy of the drug war. Law enforcement agencies seize less than 20 percent of the 700 tons of cocaine and 550 tons of heroin produced annually. According to the report, they would have to seize 60 to 80 percent to make the industry unprofitable for the traffickers.

The article provides more information and concludes with looking for alternatives:

Could anything replace the war on drugs? There’s no easy answer. In May, the Senlis Council, a group that works on the opium issue in Afghanistan, argued that “current counter-narcotics policies . . . have focused on poppy eradication, without providing farmers with viable alternatives.” Instead of eradication, the council, which is made up of senior politicians and law enforcement officials from Canada and Europe, concludes that Afghan farmers should be permitted to grow opium that can then be refined and distributed for medical purposes. (That’s not going to happen, as the United States has recently reiterated its commitment to poppy eradication.)

Others argue that the only way to minimize the criminality and social distress that drugs cause is to legalize narcotics so that the state may exert proper control over the industry. It needs to be taxed and controlled, they insist.

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It’s obvious why — telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, “I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years’ time and tell the tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ This is so stupid.”

How right he is.

Richardson Stands Out in Today’s Debate

Today’s Democratic debate helps demonstrate that Obama might have made the right decision in limiting debate appearances. This debate will not make a difference in the race but there were a couple of answers I found interesting. Previously Bill Richardson’s campaign has been hampered by poor showings in the debate. I doubt that enough people watched today’s debate for it to matter, but if anyone can be declared the winner it would be Richardson.

There was more of the attempts to attack Obama for being inexperienced. Bill Richardson turned this discussion to his advantage:

You know, I think that Senator Obama does represent change. Senator Clinton has experience. Change and experience: With me, you get both.

And you know, my point — and, here, we’re going to need change to become energy independent. We’re going to need experience to deal with foreign leaders, as I have.You know, it’s interesting. You talk about the dispute between the two senators over dictators that — should we; should we not meet?

I’ve met them already, most of them. All my life I’ve been a diplomat, trying to bring people together.

When they got into substance, Stephanopoulos showed once again that Clinton has basically been criticizing Obama for a statement similar to one she made in the past. I increasingly see Clinton’s strategy as attacking on invented issues while avoiding saying much about real issues.

A viewer emailed, “My question is to understand each candidates’ view of a personal God. Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could have been prevented or lessened?”

Nobody gave the Arnold Vinick answer which I would have preferred, but Bill Richardson handled it best:

I pray. I’m a Roman Catholic. My sense of social justice, I believe, comes from being a Roman Catholic.

But, in my judgment, prayer is personal. And how I pray and how any American prays, for what reason, is their own decision. And it should be respected.

And so, in my view, I think it’s important that we have faith, that we have values, but if I’m president, I’m not going to wear my religion on my sleeve and impose it on anybody.

Richardson didn’t really answer the question specifically about things he might have left out when advocating for a cause but he did have a good response:

And, you know, I make a lot of misstatements. I’m not the scripted candidate. But I think when the chips are down, when the time comes to get hostages out from Saddam Hussein or persuade the North Koreans to reduce their nuclear arsenal, or bring back the remains of American servicemen, I perform.

But the reality is, what the American people want is a president who says, “I will follow the Constitution of the United States; I will not go to war unless the Congress authorizes me to go to war.”

And we’re going to get rid of those blemishes that America has, like Guantanamo, like eavesdropping on our citizens, like policies of torture, like returning habeas corpus.

I think if we simply say that we are in an America of checks and balances, where the judiciary and the executive and the legislative branches have an equal role, that we’re honoring the principles of freedom, where America stands.

There was also discussion on Iraq in which Richardson managed to stand out from the others with his call to remove all American troops. There was also a lot of talk on views held before the war, with Kucinich and Obama being the winners on this question before a word is even said.

Edwards Exposes Lack of Knowlege on Health Care and Cuba

With the exception of the totally-clueless Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards just continues to show that he’s the least informed candidate running this year. He continues to prove Bob Shrum’s point that Edwards is “a Clinton who hadn’t read the books” and to verify the National Journal’s survey which ranked him as the most overrated Democratic candidate. Political Radar reports on another statement which puts Edwards’ ability to be president in question. (Hat tip to Captain’s Quarters.)

When an Iowa resident asked former senator John Edwards Thursday whether the United States should follow the Cuban healthcare model, the 2004 vice presidential contender deflected the question by saying he didn’t know enough to answer the question.

“I’m going to be honest with you — I don’t know a lot about Cuba’s healthcare system,” Edwards, D-N.C., said at an event in Oskaloosa, Iowa. “Is it a government-run system?”

That should have been an easy one, considering that virtually everything in Cuba is a government-run system. Perhaps we might try to give Edwards the benefit of the doubt here as, due to the inevitable failure of Communist systems, countries such as China have turned to non-government industries. The problem in using this as a defense for Edwards is that he was discussing Sicko, which looks extensively at the Cuban system, just a few days earlier:

As Willie Nelson’s classic “On the Road Again” blared, Edwards leaned out of a window of his campaign bus dubbed “Fighting for One America”, to hear an off-camera voice howl, “I wanted to ask ya, is it required that everyone go see “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko”?

Edwards, in between autographs outside Dan’s Pizzeria in Onawa, Iowa, replies, “I watched Sicko,” later adding, “It’s a great movie.”

Later in the report we find that Edwards missed the ending of Sicko, which still leaves the question of whether one needs to see Sicko from start to finish to know that Cuba has a government-run system. I’ve never been impressed with the standard interview questions of having a candidate give the names of multiple heads of state, as this could represent either rote memorization or true knowledge of the other countries. There are basic concepts about other countries which a candidate should be aware of, such as that Cuba has a government-run health care system. John Edwards doesn’t even cut it as a movie reviewer here. He certainly is not qualified to be President.

A Victory for Ron Paul

Ron Paul might have finished poorly in Iowa, but he now has a victory under his belt in a straw poll, having won in Alabama. The results were:

Paul 216
Romney 14
Hunter 10
Thompson 9
Giuliani 7
Huckabee 6
McCain 2
Brownback 2
Tancredo 0
Cox 0

Alas, the victory doesn’t look as impressive after reading these caveats from Reason:

Some caveats: It was much smaller than the Iowa or Illinois straw polls, smaller than the last Alabama poll in 1999 (won by Alan Keyes) and Mitt Romney didn’t even bother to try and buy it. It was structured a little bit like Ames Straw Poll with voting card that cost $25 in advance, $35 at the door, and required an Alabama ID to pick up. No candidate came to speak: Baptist minister John Killian spoke for Paul. So there’s a little grist for the cynics… for the true believers, 81 percent is better even than Paul usually does in online polls.

The straw poll must have been unimportant if Mitt Romney did not even bother to buy it. The Alabama straw poll just might have some predictive value, as Paul’s chances to win the nomination aren’t much better than Alan Keyes’ chances were.

Thomas Friedman’s Not Believing The Administration Claims on the Surge

It might have taken Thomas Friedman too long to realize that the Iraq war was a foolish mistake, but at least he is not going to be fooled by claims that the surge has been a success:

There’s only one thing at this stage that would truly impress me, and it is this: proof that there is an Iraq, proof that there is a coalition of Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds who share our vision of a unified, multiparty, power-sharing, democratizing Iraq and who are willing to forge a social contract that will allow them to maintain such an Iraq — without U.S. troops.

Because if that is not the case, even if U.S. troops create more pockets of security via the surge, they will have no one to hand these pockets to who can maintain them without us. In other words, the only people who can prove that the surge is working are the Iraqis, and the way they prove that is by showing that violence is down in areas where there are no U.S. troops or where U.S. troops have come and gone.

Because many Americans no longer believe anything President Bush says about Iraq, he has outsourced the assessment of the surge to the firm of Petraeus & Crocker. But this puts them in an impossible position. I admire their efforts, and those of their soldiers, to try to salvage something decent in Iraq, especially when you see who we are losing to — Sunni suicide jihadists and Shiite militants, who murder fellow Muslims by the dozen and whose retrograde visions offer Iraqis only a future of tears. But we could never defeat them on our own. It takes a village, and right now too many of the Iraqi villagers won’t work together.

Most likely the Bush team will say the surge is a “partial” success and needs more time. But that is like your contractor telling you that your home is almost finished — the bricks are up, but there’s no cement. Thanks a lot.

The Democrats should not fight Petraeus & Crocker over their answer. They should redefine the question. They should say: “My fellow Americans, ask yourselves this: What will convey to you, in your gut — without anyone interpreting it — that the surge is working and worth sustaining?”

My answer: If I saw something with my own eyes that I hadn’t seen before — Iraq’s Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders stepping forward, declaring their willingness to work out their differences by a set deadline and publicly asking us to stay until they do. That’s the only thing worth giving more time to develop.

Frank Rich on Recalling the Defective Rove

Frank Rich writes that August is the month to recall defective products. For the Bush administration the defective product is Karl Rove. Rich notes that even some on the right have lost confidence in Rove:

What the Rove critics on the right recognize is that it may be even more difficult for their political party to dig out of his wreckage than it will be for America. Their angry bill of grievances only sporadically overlaps that of the Democrats. One popular conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, mocked Mr. Rove and his interviewer, Paul Gigot, for ignoring “the Harriet Miers debacle, the botching of the Dubai ports battle, or the undeniable stumbles in post-Iraq invasion policies,” not to mention “the spectacular disaster of the illegal alien shamnesty.” Ms. Malkin, an Asian-American in her 30s, comes from a far different place than the Gigot-Fred Barnes-William Kristol axis of Bush-era ideological lock step.

Those Bush dead-enders are in a serious state of denial. Just how much so could be found in the Journal interview when Mr. Rove extolled his party’s health by arguing, without contradiction from Mr. Gigot, that young people are more “pro-life” and “free-market” than their elders. Maybe he was talking about 12-year-olds. Back in the real world of potential voters, the latest New York Times-CBS News poll of Americans aged 17 to 29 found that their views on abortion were almost identical to the rest of the country’s. (Only 24 percent want abortion outlawed.)

That poll also found that the percentage of young people who identify as Republicans, whether free-marketers or not, is down to 25, from a high of 37 at the end of the Reagan era. Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster, found that self-identified G.O.P. voters are trending older rapidly, with the percentage over age 55 jumping from 28 to 41 percent in a decade.

Every poll and demographic accounting finds the Republican Party on the losing side of history, both politically and culturally. Not even a miraculous armistice in Iraq or vintage Democratic incompetence may be able to ride to the rescue. A survey conducted by The Journal itself (with NBC News) in June reported G.O.P. approval numbers lower than any in that poll’s two decades of existence. Such is the political legacy for a party to which Mr. Rove sold Mr. Bush as “a new kind of Republican,” an exemplar of “compassionate conservatism” and the avatar of a permanent Republican majority.

That sales pitch, as we long ago learned, was all about packaging, not substance. The hope was that No Child Left Behind and a 2000 G.O.P. convention stacked with break dancers and gospel singers would peel away some independent and black voters from the Democrats. The promise of immigration reform would spread Bush’s popularity among Hispanics. Another potential add-on to the Republican base was Muslims, a growing constituency that Mr. Rove’s pal Grover Norquist plotted to herd into the coalition.

The rest is history. Any prospect of a rapprochement between the G.O.P. and African-Americans died in the New Orleans Superdome. The tardy, botched immigration initiative unleashed a wave of xenophobia against Hispanics, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country. The Muslim outreach project disappeared into the memory hole after 9/11.