Feb 8, 2002
cache from http://www.drcnet.org/wol/223.html
David Borden, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 2/8/02
When I first heard about the government's SuperBowl ad buy attempting to link drug use with funding of terrorism and violence -- kids saying things like "I helped murder families in Colombia" or "I helped kidnap people's dads" or "I helped kids learn how to kill" -- I wasn't at all surprised. I fully expected the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to dishonor our slain and profiteer off of this tragedy for their own purposes, and the extreme repulsiveness and dishonesty of this particular ad seemed right in character with the drug warriors' standard modus operandi.
Don't get me wrong. Some drug use does indirectly contribute to terrorist activity. Not most of it, but some of it to be sure. But so does oil consumption -- minivans, SUVs, cars, motorcycles, home heating, the works -- not most of it, but some of it. Even if Osama bin Laden wasn't directly involved in the oil business, the contracts awarded to his family's construction company had to ultimately be paid for by something. And oil money created the rich Saudi dictators who fund the plethora of extreme religious fundamentalist schools and institutions throughout the Middle East that have fanned the flames of hatred and legitimized terrorist activity in the eyes of many from those societies, attempting through such "philanthropy" to purchase a cheap legitimacy that autocracies can never earn in any deeper sense.
Still, it is true that buying drugs on the illicit market does help to fuel a wide range of unsavory activity both within and without our borders. It would be morally one-dimensional to deny this. But if the individual user of heroin or cocaine does help to "kidnap people" or "murder families" -- grotesque hyperbole at best -- the government has effectively facilitated all such violence. It is the government that prohibits drugs, and it is only this illegality that causes drug money to be associated with violence any more than regular money. After all, why does opium grown in Australia for pain medicine and anesthesia contribute nothing to global violence, while opium grown in Colombia or Afghanistan or Burma for illegal heroin does? The plants are the same, only the laws are different. And pathological or not, that money also provides employment to a lot of people who in truth have no other realistic opportunities for employment. During a recession of all times, this shouldn't be hard to understand.
After September 11th, we in the drug reform movement wrung our hands and agonized for weeks over whether or how we should draw attention to the role that drug prohibition plays in funding terrorism. I believe that the work done on that issue since then, by allies such as Common Sense for Drug Policy, Drug Policy Alliance, ReconsiDer, even a little bit here at DRCNet, has shown intellectual integrity and has been done with tact and respect to the victims and their survivors. None of this can be said about the ONDCP's propagandistic, hate-mongering advertisement.
MIT professor Noam Chomsky has long been one
of the nation's most implacable critics of US foreign policy and domestic
inequity, as well as its highly-concentrated mass media. Lauded by the New
York Review of Books as "America's leading radical intellectual," Chomsky
has authored dozens of books on US policy in the Middle East, Latin
America, the former Yugoslavia and East Timor, among others, as well as
"Manufacturing Consent," a scathing critique of propagandistic corporate
media. A proud anarchist -- he defines anarchism as "a tendency in the
history of human thought and action which seeks to identify coercive,
authoritarian, and hierarchic structures of all kinds and to challenge
their legitimacy, and if they cannot justify their legitimacy, which is
quite commonly the case, to work to undermine them and expand the scope of
freedom" -- Chomsky is a legendary American political dissident whose
campus appearances regularly bring out thousands of students. The Week
Online spoke with the distinguished linguist and essayist from his office
|Week Online: During Sunday's
SuperBowl, the drug czar's office ran a series of paid ads
attempting to link drug use and the "war on terrorism." If you use
drugs, the ads said, you support terrorism. What is your take on
Noam Chomsky: Terrorism is now being used and has been used pretty much the same way communism was used. If you want to press some agenda, you play the terrorism card. If you don't follow me on this, you're supporting terrorism. That is absolutely infantile, especially when you consider that much of the history of the drug trade trails right behind the CIA and other US intervention programs. Going back to the end of the second world war, you see -- and this is not controversial, it is well-documented -- the US allying itself with the French Mafia, resulting in the French Connection, which dominated the heroin trade through the 1960s. The same thing took place with opium in the Golden Triangle during the Vietnam War, and again in Afghanistan during the war against the Russians.
WOL: The cocaine trade is the primary given reason for US intervention in Colombia's civil war. In your opinion, to what degree is the drug angle a pretext? And a pretext for what?
Chomsky: Colombia has had the worst human rights record in the hemisphere in the last decade while it has been the leading recipient of US arms and training for the Western Hemisphere and now ranks behind only Israel and Egypt worldwide. There exists a very close correlation that holds over a long period of time between human rights violations and US military aid and training. It's not that the US likes to torture people; it's that it basically doesn't care. For the US government, human rights violations are a secondary consequence. In Colombia, as elsewhere, human rights violations tend to increase as the state tries to violently repress opposition to inequality, oppression, corruption, and other state crimes for which there is no political outlet. The state turns to terror -- that's what's been happening in Colombia for a long time, since before there was a Colombian drug trade. Counterinsurgency has been going on there for 40 years; President Kennedy sent a special forces mission to Colombia in the early 1960s. Their proposal to the Colombian government was recently declassified, and it called for "paramilitary terror" -- those are their words -- against what it called known communist proponents. In Colombia, that meant labor leaders, priests, human rights activists, and so on. Colombian military manuals in the 1960s began to reflect this advice. In the last 15 years, as the US has become more deeply involved, human rights violations are up considerably.
On a more serious point, suppose that the drug pretext were legitimate. Suppose that the US really is trying to get rid of drugs in Colombia. Does Colombia then have the right to fumigate tobacco farms in Kentucky? They are producing a lethal substance far more dangerous than cocaine. More Colombians die from tobacco-related illnesses than Americans die from cocaine. Of course, Colombia has no right to do that.
WOL: Domestically, state, local, and federal governments have spent tens of billions of dollars on the "war on drugs," yet illicit drugs remain as available, as pure, and as cheap as ever. If this policy is not accomplishing its stated goal, what is it accomplishing? Is there some sort of latent agenda being served?
Chomsky: They have known all along that it won't work, they have good evidence from their own research studies showing that if you want to deal with substance abuse, criminalization is the worst method. The RAND report did a cost-effectiveness analysis of various drug strategies and it found that the most effective approach by far is prevention and treatment. Police action was well below that, and below police action was interdiction, and at the bottom in terms of cost-effectiveness were out-of-country efforts, such as what the US is doing in Colombia. President Nixon, by contrast, had a significant component for prevention and treatment that was effective.
US domestic drug policy does not carry out its stated goals, and policymakers are well aware of that. If it isn't about reducing substance abuse, what is it about? It is reasonably clear, both from current actions and the historical record, that substances tend to be criminalized when they are associated with the so-called dangerous classes, that the criminalization of certain substances is a technique of social control. The economic policies of the last 20 years are a rich man's version of structural adjustment. You create a superfluous population, which in the US context is largely poor, black, and Hispanic, and a much wider population that is economically dissatisfied. You read all the headlines about the great economy, but the facts are quite different. For the vast majority, these neoliberal policies have had a negative effect. With regard to wages, we have only now regained the wage levels of 30 years ago. Incomes are maintained only by working longer and harder, or with both adults in a family working. Even the rate of growth in the economy has not been that high, and what growth there is has been highly concentrated in certain sectors.
If most people are dissatisfied and others are useless, you want to get rid of the useless and frighten the dissatisfied. The drug war does this. The US incarceration rate has risen dramatically, largely because of victimless crimes, such as drug offenses, and the sentences are extremely punitive. The drug war not only gets rid of the superfluous population, it frightens everybody else. Drugs play a role similar to communism or terrorism, people huddle beneath the umbrella of authority for protection from the menace. It is hard to believe that these consequences aren't understood. They are there for anyone to see. Back when the current era of the drug war began, Senator Moynihan paid attention to the social science, and he said if we pass this law we are deciding to create a crime wave among minorities.
For the educated sectors, all substance abuse was declining in the '90s, whether we're talking about cocaine or cigarette smoking or eating red meat. This was a period in which cultural and educational changes were taking place that led the more educated sectors to reduce consumption of all sorts of harmful substances. For the poorer sectors, on the other hand, substance abuse remained relatively stable. Looking at these curves, we see that what will happen, it is obvious you will be going after poor sectors. Some legal historians have predicted that tobacco would be criminalized because it is associated with poorer and less-educated people. If you go to McDonald's, you see kids smoking cigarettes, but I haven't seen a graduate student who smoked cigarettes for years. We are now beginning to see punitive consequences related to smoking, and of course the industry has seen this coming for years. Phillip Morris and the rest have begun to diversify and to shift operations abroad.
WOL: Many ardent drug reformers are self-identified Libertarians. As an anarchist -- I assume it is fair to call you that -- what is your take on libertarianism?
Chomsky: The term libertarian as used in the US means something quite different from what it meant historically and still means in the rest of the world. Historically, the libertarian movement has been the anti-statist wing of the socialist movement. Socialist anarchism was libertarian socialism. In the US, which is a society much more dominated by business, the term has a different meaning. It means eliminating or reducing state controls, mainly controls over private tyrannies. Libertarians in the US don't say let's get rid of corporations. It is a sort of ultra-rightism.
Having said that, frankly, I agree with them on a lot of things. On the drug issue, they tend to oppose state involvement in the drug war, which they correctly regard as a form of coercion and deprivation of liberty. You may be surprised to know that some years ago, before there were any independent left journals, I used to write mainly for the Cato Institute journal.
WOL: What should be done about drug use and the drug trade?
Chomsky: I agree with RAND. It is a problem. Cocaine is not good for you. If you want to deal with substance abuse, the approach should be education, prevention, rehabilitation and so forth. That is what we have successfully done with other substances. We did not have to outlaw tobacco to see a reduction in use; that is the result of cultural and educational changes. One must always be cautious in recommending social policy because we can't know what will happen, but we should be exploring steps toward decriminalization. Let's undertake this seriously and see what happens. An obvious place to begin is with marijuana. Decriminalization of marijuana would be a very sensible move. And we need to begin shifting from criminalization to prevention. Prevention and treatment are how we should be addressing hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin.