Sunday, April 19, 2009

Illegal Drugs-"Put the Blame Where it Belongs"

President Barack Obama with Mexican President Felipe Calderon

The below posting was written by an old friend and colleague, Charles Lutz, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent, with whom I served in Bangkok, Thailand in the mid-late 1970s. During his DEA career, Chuck served two tours of duty in Thailand, the second of which as Special Agent in Charge. He also served as DEA's Country Attache in Cairo, Egypt, during which time, he was instrumental in establishing DEA's first office in Cyprus. His US-based assignments include Philadephia, Miami, Reno and several tours in DEA Hqs in Washington. Chuck's extensive overseas and domestic experience gives him a valuable insight and perspective on the drug problem, which I am happy to post below.

A lot has been made of Hillary Clinton having put the blame for Mexico's drug war on the United States. During her visit to Mexico, Clinton said she accepts that the United States market for drugs and the cross-border trade in weapons contribute to Mexico's drug violence. She told Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon, "We know very well that the drug traffickers are motivated by the demand for illegal drugs in the United States, that they are armed by the transport of weapons from the United States to Mexico." Last week, her "apology" was reinforced, in part, by President Barrack Obama's remarks during his visit to Mexico praising the efforts of Mexico's government to counter drug cartels. In an appearance with President Calderon, Obama said, "The United States must take further steps, such as ensuring that illegal guns and cash do not flow from north of the Rio Grande to the cartels in Mexico." I think they're right.

I spent most of my 32-year career with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration stationed overseas or managing international programs from the United States. I saw first hand our government's finger pointing at Burma and Thailand in the 1970's for our heroin problem; at Mexico, Colombia and Jamaica in the 1980's for our marijuana problem; and at Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Panama in the 1980's and 1990's for our cocaine problem. We said, "You need to be doing more to stem the flow of drugs to the United States." There is a convenient, mistaken belief in America that we are the victims.

In reality, the citizens of Colombia and Mexico, and of the other countries along the drug route to America, are the victims. Drug money enriches the cartels-not the national treasuries in those countries. It underwrites the violence cartels use to intimidate governments, and increases their ability to corrupt legislators, judges, and military and police officials, thereby undermining the rule of law. Not too many years ago Colombia was on the verge of becoming the first "narco-democracy." And now Mexico is suffering from the first serious attempt by its government to crack down on drug cartels. We too are victims, but from self-inflicted wounds that take their toll on the health, crime rate, social services and productivity in this country.

Drug abuse is a question of supply and demand. If no one wanted drugs, no one would make them. It's our insatiable appetite for drugs that is driving the market. But it's always easier to blame the other guy for your problems. Politicians love to blame foreign governments for our drug problem-after all, foreign governments don't vote in U.S. elections. On the other hand, politicians hate to blame their own constituents, many of whom are the drug users who are perpetuating the problem. After all, it may cost them a few votes. Reducing the supply of drugs in the United States is a law enforcement responsibility. But no matter how risky law enforcement can make it for drug traffickers to conduct their business, there will be those willing to take that risk as long as there are those willing to buy them.

Reducing demand for drugs is not a law enforcement responsibility, although it has been left largely to the police to handle-and who have taken the brunt of criticism for not stopping a problem that is not within their power to solve. No matter how risky police can make it for users to buy drugs, there will be those who take that risk to satisfy their cravings or curiosity. So any way you cut it, there's no denying that it is our demand for illegal drugs that drives the supply.

The answer to demand reduction is either to surrender, by legalizing drugs, or find a way to reduce the demand for them. I personally believe the former is too morally repugnant and socially costly, although that is a matter for the electorate to decide. Education is often touted as a panacea for reducing drug abuse. However, education alone is not the answer. As teenagers we are taught that speeding in an automobile is dangerous. But it's not our intellect that keeps most of us from speeding. It's the thought that a cop might be around the next bend. We must educate the populace as to the harm of using drugs, but there has to be a consequence for doing so. Educators and law enforcement officials must work together. And we also need our communities (and perhaps our community organizers!) and our entertainment industry to stigmatize the use of drugs; our social scientists, and psychiatric and medical professionals to find solutions to the cravings and addictions for drugs; and the parents in our permissive society to assume greater responsibility by setting a better example, and better supervising their children. It will take a multi-faceted approach to have a positive impact on drug abuse in this country.

I don't think we should be apologizing to the Germans for how we treat prisoners of war, telling the French that Americans are arrogant, or calling military veterans right wing extremists. But Obama and Clinton should not be criticized for putting the blame for the drug problem where it belongs-right here at home. Lord knows there are enough issues to criticize them about. But this is not one of them. Nancy Reagan once said at the United Nations, "If we cannot stem the American demand for drugs, then there is little hope of preventing foreign drug producers from fulfilling that demand. We will not get anywhere if we place a heavier burden of action on foreign governments than on our own mayors, judges and legislators. You see, the cocaine cartels do not begin in Medellin (Colombia). They begin in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and every American city where crack (cocaine) is bought and sold." Nancy was right then. And Barrack and Hillary are right now . . . if only on this one matter.

-Charles Lutz

1 comment:

Findalis said...

I put the blame on the users. On Hollywood for promoting the usage. On governments for not dealing with this problem with the resolve needed to combat the gangs that grew rich selling the stuff. And with foreign governments with their corruption, their indifference, and their lack of will to stop the trade in their nations.

I would blame Obama, but what good would that do?