The New York Times reported last weekend that the United States is in the process of expanding the 40 year old War on Drugs to West Africa, specifically, to Ghana and Nigeria. The report comes on the heels of news from Honduras that the DEA has been responsible for killing civilians while attempting to intercept cocaine shipments. Despite these tragedies, an identical model is being introduced in Africa: Highly militarized DEA commando squads are being sent to train police and lead raids in poor and developing countries.
The audacity required to expand the War on Drugs is alarming. Leaders around the world are questioning the efficacy and ideology of the war, and the tactics are less popular each day. Even so, the war is being continually expanded, and each expansion is somehow justified by the last. The War on Drugs is taking in more resources than ever before to fight a battle that is growing geographically, ideologically, and pharmacologically.
During the past ten years there has been a conflation of drugs and terrorism. The first inkling of this disinformation came when ads assuring my generation that our neighborhood pot smokers were funding al Qaeda, started after September 11, 2001. While this kind of propaganda attracts mostly ridicule, it seems that some powerful people take it very seriously. Top-level military strategists have been quoted calling the War on Drugs and the War on Terror part of a larger ‘Global Counter Insurgency,’ and stressing the similarity between the two. From the New York Times article:
“We see Africa as the new frontier in terms of counterterrorism and counternarcotics issues,” said Jeffrey P. Breeden, the chief of the DEA’s Europe, Asia and Africa section. “It’s a place that we need to get ahead of – we’re already behind the curve in some ways, and we need to catch up.”
It should go without saying that the goals of terrorizing and supplying an illicit demand are fundamentally different. If terrorists are able to profit from the drug trade, then shame on us for ineffectually fighting supply chains in other countries instead of having a real conversation about our demand problem. The solution to our drug problem is here, not half a world away, no matter what the anti-drug industry would have us believe. While our commando squads travel the world, there is evidence that the War on Drugs is again lagging behind facts on the ground by focusing so much effort and violence on stopping cocaine, a designer drug that has lost popularity since its height in the eighties.
Prescription drugs now lead to more overdose deaths than all illicit drugs combined. Pharmaceutical companies have been brilliant at developing new and potent drugs to treat illness and injury. These drugs are, in the case of painkillers, based entirely on opiates, and are both potent and addictive. It’s little wonder then, that these drugs have become the most tempting targets for dealers and abusers alike. After the report was published, the government responded by assuring the public that efforts are being made, within the framework of the War on Drugs, to attack the problem. The traditional plan of attack in the War is to arrest as many users and dealers as possible, and to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. These ‘get tough’ policies have failed in the past, but are a persistent component of the War on Drugs nonetheless.
We know of nothing that can expand infinitely. It is a fundamental truth in physics, ecology, economics, and even politics. The War on Drugs sucks up resources and produces violence and generations of inmates. Despite expanding for forty years, it has done nothing to stop the flow of drugs into and within the United States.
The War on Drugs is a war against the people who cultivate, transport, sell, and use those drugs. The Obama administration has expanded, not abandoned, this unpopular war, and the results of that expansion are being felt in Mexico, Central America, and now Africa. As the people against whom this war is being fought, we have two options: we can continue to pay for the war and watch as it burns itself out in failure over decades, or we can SUE FOR PEACE in the War on Drugs and start talking about real alternative strategies.