part 2 of article


by Joseph Miranda

"The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact." ‹George Orwell in "Nineteen Eighty-Four"(1)

Since at least the middle of the Reagan Administration, the United States has had a "war on drugs." (2) The official objective objective of this "war" has been the creation of a "drug-free" America. And it seems like a real war, with televised reports of heavily armed police attacking the drug trade throughout the United States and the armed forces engaged in counterdrug missions both at home and abroad. Yet despite the fact that this "war" has lasted over a decade, the resources allocated have been woefully inadequate and there is no realistic strategy for victory. What precisely is the United States fighting for?

In order to understand the "war on drugs", it is important to remember the definition of war. Carl von Clausewitz, the 19th century military theoretician, defines war as "An act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will." (3) When seen in this light, it becomes apparent that America's "war on drugs" is not really fought against drugs. Drugs, after all, are inanimate objects and can not be compelled to do anything. The "war" is actually fought against the people who traffic in and consume drugs and, as will be seen, against society in general.

A War without Winning

The United States has implemented a national drug control strategy based on the following four objectives:(4)
€ Eradication of drug-producing crops at home and abroad
€ Interdiction of drug smuggling
€ Investigation and prosecution of drug traffickers
€ Penalization of drug users

Despite much rhetoric on the part of politicians and drug enforcement agencies, the amount of resources being devoted to the "war on drugs" is completely inadequate. The United States has deployed abroad several hundred U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and several thousand military personnel to fight drugs in one capacity or another. This is simply not sufficient to police the vast areas of the underdeveloped world where drugs are produced and the vast expanses through which they are smuggled. It is not even a fraction of the total number of troops required.

According to a Department of Defense analysis, a successful interdiction of U.S. borders against drug traffic would require 96 infantry battalions, 53 helicopter companies, 210 patrol ships, and 110 surveillance aircraft.(5) This is a greater number of maneuver units and support equipment than currently deployed by U.S. forces in North America. The total U.S. active armed forces strength after projected cutbacks will be approximately 150 maneuver battalions (organized into 10 Army and three Marine divisions, with approximately 10 maneuver battalions each; there are also several brigade level units with three or four maneuver battalions each). But the majority of these units are armored and mechanized infantry, which are generally unsuitable for police type operations. In order for them to be utilized in a war on drugs, they would have to be converted to infantry and retrained.

This analysis does not take into account the amount of personnel it would require to control the hinterlands of Latin America, the Middle East and Asia where the majority of the world's cocoa, opium, and cannabis is grown. Two of the world's largest opium growing areas, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle, are remote locations with long histories of resistance to foreign military occupation. If the full might of the Soviet Union proved unable to subdue Afghanistan in the 1980s, it is beyond absurdity to think that drug enforcement personnel could occupy these areas in the face of guerrilla resistance.

Aside from the foreign areas, there are the massive amounts of drugs that are produced within the United States itself, from cannabis (a major cash crop) to home laboratories. And this evaluation does not leave any forces for defense against foreign military threats of any size or type, and would certainly preclude the United States from participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions and other such contingencies.

According to original Congressional mandates, the United States was to be "drug free" by 1995. Of course, this objective was not achieved. (6) It is apparent that the United States has failed to even remotely attain any of its stated objectives. Drug production abroad has not been stopped.(7) The destruction of one cocaine cartel in Latin America simply leaves the door open for another (and usually more ruthless) organization to take over the trade. Eradication operations in one region push coca growing to other parts of the world, or cause the substitution of one drug for another. While there have been numerous individual victories in drug interdiction, the overwhelming majority of smuggling succeeds. At home, use of drugs remains high and continues unabated.(8) Psychoactive substances like LSD are also making a comeback, especially among younger people, and heroin increases in popularity.(9)

Given all, this why doesn't the United States government deploy the 96 infantry battalions, etc. that a victory in the "war on drugs" would require? Such a deployment has never been seriously proposed by the leaders of either major political party. Most debates revolve around increasing the number of troops and law enforcement personnel on the border by a few thousand, a force which, obviously, is totally inadequate.

A Real War?

Let us briefly consider what would be required to fight a true "war on drugs." Such a national strategy would mean something like the following:
€ Mobilization and expansion of the armed forces and their retraining towards police-oriented missions.
€ Increased Department of Defense expenditures.
€ Deployment of combat troops for combat against drug producing nations.
€ Engagement drug traffickers through massive intelligence efforts and their destruction through full military power.
€ Permanent occupation of all drug producing regions and permanent sealing of the United States borders to prevent resurgence of drug production and importation.
€ Deployment of the armed forces throughout the United States and employing them to target American citizens with intelligence, security and military operations.

The first two objectives would require an end to Department of Defense cutbacks, the call-up of the National Guard and Reserves, and, quite possibly, a return to conscription. But the American people are in no mood to spend more on defense, or any other government program, for that matter. Increased taxation or deficit spending to support such a national war effort would provoke massive public opposition in a country which is already demanding a reduced national debt. There is also the political matter that a retooling of the armed forced for law enforcement would mean an end to the lucrative hi-technology arms industries which currently enjoy the patronage of the Department of Defense.

Deployment of U.S. troops in protracted combat missions might receive much initial support, but in the long run would prove to be politically disastrous. Unlike the 1990-1 Persian Gulf War, there would be no quick victory in a real "war on drugs." The United States would not be attacking a conventionally armed enemy force conveniently concentrated in a relatively confined desert region where it could be targeted by superior American technology and firepower. Instead, the United States would be fighting over vast underdeveloped regions against underground infrastructures encompassing the various drug cartels, as well as their terrorist and guerrilla allies.

Experience in counterinsurgency has demonstrated that such unconventional opponents cannot be defeated by firepower alone, but only by protracted and integrated military, political, and economic programs. Once intervention occurred, the U.S. could not simply declare victory and withdraw. Unless full-scale occupation took place, the drug producers would move back into contested regions and resume operations. Deployment of U.S. troops would amount to continual warfare against the civilian population of the targeted regions, who in turn would reasonably perceive any large-scale U.S. military intervention as an overt act of imperialism and aggression. (10)

The final element of a true military drug control strategy would turn the armed forces into an internal security force, in the same manner as the military of many third world nations. Aside from undermining the armed forces' ability to engage external threats, this would also mean, in effect, civil war as the military would be engaged in operations against American citizens.

The U.S. would then find itself fighting against many different insurgents simultaneously around the globe, as well as at home. This is the "nightmare scenario" that the Pentagon and State Department have worked long and thus far successfully to avoid. Fighting a real war to destroy drugs would risk America's present and future position as world leader, as well as embroiling it in numerous hot wars worldwide. The political leadership of the United States has decided to avoid taking such a gamble.

The Pseudo-War

A peculiar situation‹the American public is told the nation is "at war," yet at the same time the government refuses to mobilize for it! If the United States is not willing to fight a real "war on drugs," what then is it up to? Why waste the tens of billions of dollars now being expended on operations which even the drug enforcement establishment concedes have a minimal effect? Why place law enforcement and military personnel at constant risk of being killed by drug traffickers? Why intervene abroad with limited military forces which achieves no result except alienation of so many people in the third world?

We have already demonstrated, albeit briefly, that the current drug war strategy can not work. The leadership of the United States is no doubt aware of this fact. The information about the numbers of troops needed to interdict America's borders are from testimony given to Congress itself. Could it be possible that the "war on drugs" is being fought for purposes other than those stated, that the goal is not to suppress drugs, but to carry out some unstated political agenda? Is what we are dealing with here not a real war, but something else‹what I term a Pseudo-War?

I use the term "pseudo-war" because the type of conflict exemplified by the "war on drugs" requires a new definition. A pseudo-war is a conflict which gives a government all the benefits of war but few of the problems. This is also why I place the term "war on drugs" within quotation marks, to distinguish it from a real war.

I opened this article with the quote from George Orwell's classic work "Nineteen Eighty-Four." In this book, Orwell describes how the totalitarian super-state of Oceania engages in a massive world war against the competing super-states of Eurasia and Eastasia. It turns out that this world war is not really happening, despite the reports from the omnipresent state run television. In reality, the fighting involves skirmishing in remote regions by small numbers of troops, but the resulting war hysteria gives the government the popular support necessary to maintain its rule. The point that Orwell makes is that in the 20th Century governments have utilized the full range of propaganda and military activities once reserved for war to enhance their own power. (11)

War, to return to Clausewitz, is fought for political objectives. It is the political objective which provides the guidance for the forces employed. The "war on drugs" can best be understood by examining the actual objectives which have been attained by the United States ‹as opposed to the surface rhetoric‹in pursuit of its drug control strategy. (12).

What has been attained by the U.S government? First, and most importantly, those in charge of the "war on drugs"‹politicians, law enforcement officials, corporate executives‹have posed as national heroes, saving the country from the drug "threat." Not incidentally, they have gained power and privilege for themselves while doing so. In these cases the connection is obvious; politicians who are "tough on drugs" will be elected to office. (13)

The "war on drugs" has also come as a welcome opportunity for those involved in law enforcement who have long harbored a desire to disregard the Bill of Rights. Anti-drug operations are consistently linked with the de facto suspension of the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. People have had their persons and property searched and seized by government officials with no probable cause other than that provided by the deliberately broad guidelines of "personality profiles" of "likely drug traffickers." Mandatory drug testing forces individuals to testify against themselves. Citizens have been denied their day in court through the use of civil penalties such as asset forfeiture. Asset forfeiture allows the government to seize without due process the property of people who are suspected but not convicted or even formally accused of drug related activities. This prevents suspects from using their own money to hire lawyers for their defense. There has been a general relaxation of requirements for wiretapping and the like. First Amendment protections have been rendered useless by government agents deliberately harassing advertisers of publications like "High Times" (a magazine which advocates marijuana legalization), and pressuring Stanford University to fire Stuart Reges for openly protesting U.S. drug policy.(14) Even freedom of religion suffered a blow when the government has forbidden Native Americans the use of ceremonial drugs like peyote.(15)

There are more tangible rewards. Asset forfeiture programs permit law enforcement agencies to confiscate and use for their own purposes the property of accused drug users. There does not have to be a criminal trial or even a formal indictment for such seizures to take place; an accusation by a government drug enforcement official is sufficient. Not surprisingly, this conveniently broad definition of "drug crimes" has enriched a significant number of government agencies and personnel.(16)

Police agencies gain in several ways from asset forfeiture. First, by directly utilizing automobiles and other equipment seized from suspects. Second, by reselling the seized items, frequently sharing the profits with auction houses (thereby making the private sector complicit with government actions). And third, by using the threat of asset forfeiture to extort money or guilty pleas from suspects. (17) Moreover, the potential for abuse of asset forfeiture has been realized with corrupt law enforcement agencies frequently seizing money and property from innocent people. (18)

Asset forfeiture has to be seen in light of the tradition of corruption among narcotics officers. (19) Narcotics officers have a long history of accepting bribes, planting false evidence, and stealing drugs from suspects and evidence rooms and then reselling them on the streets. In effect, what asset forfeiture does is take the corruption that was in the past associated with narcotics enforcement and legalized it. (20)

The "war on drugs" has also been useful as an excuse for the repression of various sectors in society around which radical movements might have coalesced. Minorities are arrested and incarcerated on drug charges far out of proportion to their numbers. Those members of the underclass who once might have provided the cadre for radical civil rights activism find themselves jailed on drug or gang related charges. The precedent for this was set during the 1960s/1970s when many radicals (such as Timothy Leary and Abbie Hoffman) were arrested or forced underground over trivial drug charges.

Abroad, the U.S. uses the "war on drugs" as an excuse to support client third world governments in their assault on rebellious peasant populations, especially in the Andean nations. The security forces of U.S. client states conduct mass terror against anyone opposed to American domination of their countries. (As will be seen, these operations are, in the long term, counterproductive for the United States.)

Finally, the "war on drugs" has allowed many people in law enforcement to "play soldier" by dressing up in camouflage uniforms, toting assault rifles, crashing through the brush, kicking in doors, and the like‹all this without having to expose themselves to the risk of real war. One can become a "drug warrior" at low cost. While drug enforcement can be dangerous and occasionally fatal, casualties on the order of actual wars fought by the United States, where thousands of dead and wounded were often recorded monthly, are not a by-product of the drug war, at least not in the United States. The total number of law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty varies between 100 and 200 per year (and this number includes officers who were, obviously, killed in confrontations other than those involving arrests of drug traffickers). This situation is somewhat different in third world countries, where U.S. client forces frequently take large numbers of casualties in fighting drug cartels and insurgents. But these casualties do not impact on the American people, as their body bags do not come home to Middle America.

The interesting thing about the "war on drugs" is that while the people who support it and fight in its interests claim to be upholding American virtues, they are undermining the very principles of individual liberty, limited government, and constitutional rights which were the foundation for American values. This has not been lost on many people within the government itself. For example, there have been a number of articles and letters written by military personnel appearing in various armed forces journals expressing concern over the direction in which the "war on drugs" is leading the United States. One controversial article was Lt. Colonel Charles J. Dunlap's, "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012," published in Parameters magazine. "The Coup of 2012" described a hypothetical scenario in which the United States military becomes sufficiently corrupted by participating in civilian law enforcement that generals take over the government and suspend the Constitution. (21)

On the home front, war rhetoric justifies suspension and abridgement of Constitutional rights on the grounds that "we have a war to win." Similarly, attacks on innocent people by drug enforcement agents are rationalized with the claim that in any war there are civilian casualties. The government can justify even terroristic measures, such as kidnapping foreign nationals in defiance of extradition treaties who have committed offenses against U.S. drug laws.(22) The brutality associated with the war on drugs domestically has caused Amnesty International, the prestigious human rights organization, to initiate a campaign to examine human rights abuses in the United States itself. In countries like Colombia, the war on drugs takes a more deadly turn as U.S. supported police, military and paramilitary forces engage in a non-stop campaign of assassinations, torture, ecocide, and extra-judicial measures to attempt to suppress the drug trade. (23).

(In real wars, as opposed to pseudo-wars, abiding by international laws is very important, especially in the type of revolutionary warfare that has wracked much of the late twentieth century. Indiscriminate use of firepower, atrocities, and attacks on non-combatants inevitably lead to mass alienation of the people and collapse of the violator's moral authority. (24)) But the subtlety required to win in an unconventional warfare (or "low intensity conflict") environment is sorely missing from the U.S. "war on drugs" in favor of high profile operations which are designed to convince people that the government is "getting tough."

No More Vietnams

If this is a war, then where are the demonstrators in the streets, the "concerned" scholars, the investigative journalists, the radical university students, all of whom have openly protested America's wars of the post World War Two era? This is the other side of the coin in the drug warriors' strategy. Since the government is neither conscripting young men and women, nor sending hundreds or thousands of Americans to their deaths on a weekly basis on foreign shores, there is little chance of a mass-based opposition developing, as happened in Vietnam. To be sure, people are being killed in the drug war, but these deaths work to the government's advantage. The few Americans killed in combat by drug traffickers are largely members of professional drug enforcement organizations, and do not effect the mainstream public. Violence by the drug gangs and cartels is used as further evidence of the terroristic nature of the opposition, and the occasional law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty becomes a martyr. (25)

By calling the national drug policy a "war" the government neutralizes much of the opposition, since opposition in wartime is unpatriotic. Proposals to end the drug war (by decriminalizing and regulating drugs, for example) are dismissed as "surrender to the enemy." Unlike other government domestic policies (e.g., health care, welfare, education) which are subject to vigorous national debate, there is only one "right way" of thinking about drugs‹the government's way. Both major political parties support the "war on drugs" and only a handful of public officials have stood up to oppose it.

So it is with business and the media, both of which have been instrumental in aiding and abetting the government's anti-drug policy. Use of mandatory drug testing as a prerequisite to employment has transformed private enterprise into an arm of the government, enforcing government policies by the most direct means possible‹either obey or starve! In the pseudo-war, government and business work as partners, and business does not even mind picking up the tab.

While often perceived as adversaries, business and media have actually teamed up successfully with the government for the pseudo-war. The "Partnership for a Drug Free America" is sponsored in part by alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical companies who, obviously, have a vested economic interest in suppressing illicit drugs. The Partnership has implemented a non-stop anti-illicit drug propaganda campaign throughout the media. (26)

There are other curious relationships. The same United States government, which has declared "war on drugs," continues to subsidize tobacco, which is one of the most addictive and deadly drugs around.(27) Lately the U.S. government has even supported programs which pressure third world governments into accepting U.S. tobacco products. A cynic might claim that the "war on drugs" is nothing more than a move to make the world safe for the government's brand of drugs. (28).

While it is easy enough to dismiss the Partnership's drug-related corporate sponsors as exploiting law enforcement to neutralize the illegal competition, it does reveal a more fundamental relationship. Many of the non-drug related corporations in the Partnership have an interest in a "drug free" society insofar as drugs were associated with the radical activism of the 1960s in which many Americans questioned the validity of the corporate power structure and consumer capitalism. And more, fundamentally, the corporate-government alliance serves as a means to accelerate the decline in working class power in America. The corporations ensure that the working class complies with governmental drug prohibition policies by terminating the employment of drug using workers; at the same time, the government neutralizes potential dissidents by a campaign of police repression against minorities and the underclass under the cover of drug enforcement.

Consequently, the opportunities for political protest against corporate downsizing, export of jobs, diminished power of unions, violation of safety laws, and white collar crime (such as the Savings & Loan Crisis) are minimized as the working class and underclass are placed on the defensive. The rise of the "war on drugs" during the 1980s parallels the decline in enforcement of OSHA standards in the workplace. Despite the fact that many if not the majority of workplace deaths and injuries are the result of management violation of safety laws, corporate executives can scapegoat a handful of drug using employees for the casualties. (29) In effect, what has happened is that the corporate sector has exploited the pseudo-war on drugs to regain the initiative in America lost during the labor struggles of the 20th Century.

Via television, the citizenry is targeted by a barrage of news and tabloid broadcasts about the drug war. (30) And it provides a dizzying show, with heroic U.S. drug enforcement personnel on the offensive across the country, assault rifles in hand, deploying in armored vehicles and helicopters, storming "crack" houses, even taking the war to foreign shores, with the deployment of U.S. forces against drug traffickers. The average citizen can exult in great victories, as at least once a week it is reported that the "largest drug bust" has been made. (31). America, it seems, is on the march.

part 2 of article

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