Of all the wars being fought, the war on drugs and the war on terrorism are the ones deemed most crucial by the federal government. You may recall the ads that ran following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, accusing recreational drug users of supporting global terrorist organizations. That ad campaign cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and provided us a glimpse of Washington's continuing effort to merge these two wars into one glorious crusade.
That was the plan when DEA Administrator Karen Tandy spoke at a three-day international drug conference held in Peru last week. She said, "The American drug consumer is the single largest funder of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere." Issuing a call to arms, she pleaded, "It is imperative that we end drugs as a funding source for terrorists and for those criminal organizations seeking to destabilize existing democratic governments."
Tandy bemoaned the fact that Americans help finance the international drug trade to the tune of $65 billion. "In the past, we have seized less than one percent of that drug money," she said. "Today, the DEA has a new focus to follow drug money."
There is little doubt as to what the federal government is trying to do. The Bush administration has already proposed doubling the number of U.S. troops in Colombia - supposedly in an advisory, non-combat capacity – and increasing the number of civilian contractors in an effort to help reduce drug trafficking in the region.
Despite the fact that Plan Colombia has already cost the U.S. close to $3 billion in military and financial support, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has stated recently that his nation is in need of "even more effective aid." He said, "Colombia's problems are grave. We must not focus on recent progress; rather, we must focus on what remains to be done. In that sense, expanding U.S. assistance benefits us all."
And why shouldn't the U.S. expand its assistance to the stricken Third World country? Wouldn't that be tax money well spent? If illegal drugs can be linked to terrorism, and if terrorism is the single biggest threat to our national security, what are we waiting for?
Playing up that angle, Tandy said, "Afghanistan stands today at the urgent crossroads between becoming a democracy that values freedom and the rule of law and a society that subsists and is beholden to the drug trade. It is a challenge for the international community to build their criminal justice institutions."
To be sure, the problem of drug trafficking is not limited to the Western Hemisphere. In the past, the U.S. government was able to stem the Middle East drug trade by bribing the Taliban to crack down on the production of opium, the raw material used to make heroin. However, since our invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent ousting of the Taliban, production of opium has skyrocketed. It's a kind of catch-22. On one hand we crippled the government shielding the terrorists who want to destroy us, but on the other hand we restored one of the terrorists' major sources of funding.
So, are we safer now than we were two-and-a-half years ago? Is the expansion of the war on drugs a sign of progress or of frantic desperation? We can be sure of at least one thing: the size of the federal government and the desire of politicians to spend our tax dollars will continue to grow. After all, there is an election coming up, and as any employee knows, real results don't matter nearly as much as the appearance of being productive.