Let’s Eliminate Welfare for Terrorists

Social Insight — POSTED BY Mike Gray on January 29, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Of all the factors on the table in the current Afghan strategic review, the war on drugs and its unintended consequences should be front and center. Our 95-year effort to create a Drug Free America by enforcing world-wide prohibition has twisted our foreign policy out of shape all over the globe and the nightmare in Afghanistan is just the latest manifestation.

It seems to be an open secret that President Karzai’s brother is a player in the heroin trade, and the whole administration in Kabul is said to be riddled with corruption. Unfortunately, the replacement of Karzai, even if that proved possible, would not change the fundamental dynamic. Nearly a tenth of the population relies on the illegal opium industry for their daily bread. Corruption will be the norm as long as the American people are willing to invest limitless resources manning an arbitrary barricade between the sellers and buyers.

Unfortunately narco-corruption, like narcotics themselves, can penetrate any border and there is growing evidence that this cancer has metastasized into every nook and cranny of the known world. Consider, for example, this headline from London: “Corrupt officers exist throughout the UK police service.”

This jarring assessment of the once-pristine Royal Constabulary comes from Britain’s National Criminal Intelligence Service. According to a document leaked to the Daily Telegraph, the head of the agency warns that “corruption may have reached ‘Level 2′, the situation which occurs in some third world countries.”

The “situation” in the colonies, current and former, is undoubtedly worse. Here’s a two-week random pick from recent U.S. headlines: August 14, a Baton Rouge deputy sheriff is sentenced to 10 years for cocaine distribution. Six days later a Georgia cop goes down on the same charges. The following week a Memphis officer is busted for distributing crack and the next day a U.S. Customs agent in Newark is cuffed for running off with a hundred pounds of cocaine. The day after that a prison guard in Arkansas is nailed for delivering meth to the Pine Bluff maximum security wing, and the head of a Michigan narcotics unit pleads guilty to diverting drugs and cash.

This is a tiny sample of lawmen who were sloppy enough to get caught. But according to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition [LEAP], the virus is everywhere. LEAP co-founder Peter Christ, a retired Police Captain from suburban Buffalo, puts it this way: “You’ve been a police officer four or five years, you’ve seen the wasted energy spent on this drug war, and now you’re standing in a motel room and lying on the bed is a hundred thousand in cash that hasn’t been counted yet. And in your back pocket is a bill from the plumber you can’t pay. And it doesn’t make any difference anyway. So you take your first taste. And then you’re gone.”

In this war as in all wars it’s the foot soldiers who bite the dust. But focus for a second on the staggering amount of cash in play — more than $300 billion a year according to the UN — and we would have to be brain dead not to suspect that this corrosion reaches the upper echelons of all governments including our own. As presidents Karzai, Calderone, Uribe, Bachelet, Correa, and others have discovered, with that kind of loot lying around you can’t trust anyone. What’s worse, the exposure to people who are getting fabulously wealthy by ignoring the law inspires a corrosive tolerance for criminality. In Ohio we just uncovered two juvenile court judges who were raking in thousands of dollars a head for every kid they sent to a private for-profit prison. This is a fire alarm sounding for the court system itself.

Even more ominous, the illegal drug trade turns out to be the ultimate crime university and a godsend for terrorists. It provides weapons, training and untraceable cash for operations, and essential technologies like border penetration and money laundering have become an art form in the hands of the drug lords. We have, in effect, created a global mechanism that is in the process of eating our civilization alive.

The drug warriors tell us we have to stay the course or drugs will destroy us but they don’t like to talk about the incalculable damage being done by blind adherence to a failed policy. While abuse of narcotics can be devastating, the tragedy of addiction actually affects only about one person in a hundred. There are humane answers to this problem that don’t require putting the future of the nation at stake. We cut tobacco addiction in half through education and never fired a shot.

International drug prohibition was begun by the United States and we can end it with a simple majority vote in Congress. As for the rest of the world, several of our allies are already ahead of us. Portugal, Holland and Switzerland are successfully experimenting with legalization and three former Latin American presidents are calling for an end to the drug war because the corruption and violence in their countries is spinning out of control.

The prohibitionists insist that legalization would only increase lawlessness, but all the evidence is on the other side of the scale. When we ended alcohol prohibition the U.S. murder rate was cut in half. Then we regulated booze, taxed it heavily, and the state got the money instead of the mob. The prison population shrank and the criminal justice system was freed from the daily grind of processing drunks and their enablers and the huge burden of enforcement was lifted from the taxpayers.

We could repeat that success with the stroke of a pen. And we could cut the funding for terrorists and simultaneously pull the rug out from under the drug lords. And in Afghanistan we would no longer have to explain to the family of the poppy farmer whose livelihood we just torched that we really meant well.

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