- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

My doctor told me my health would probably be better, and my disposition definitely, if I wrote good-news columns instead of harping on the torture and church burnings of the Chinese communists, slavery in the Sudan, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein, Bill Clintons perfidy in breaking his promises to fight for human rights, Americans who put profit above country in foreign trade topics like that.
So this column is about drug addiction, the plague that cripples millions of Americans and their victims. All Americans sea to sea should rejoice at the news I am giving them. Well all except those few with obese wallets who are busily trying to sabotage the war against drugs, the people who are on their pro-drug payrolls and those who swallow their propaganda for creeping legalization.
The news is that President Bush has finally chosen a new chief of the White House anti-drug office John P. Walters, a former deputy director for drug policy under Bill Bennett, the first and most passionate of what used to be called drug czars. The federal government and the press no longer consider that title politically correct, nor the term drug war but I do consider them very correct.
Mr. Walters understands fully that winning the war means putting money and personnel, lots of both, into law enforcement, interdiction of illegal narcotics and therapy not one, but a three-legged stool. We two do share a bias: against Americans being fed the sugar candy that law enforcement is not all that important or effective. Weakening law enforcement is no less dangerous than eliminating therapy for those who need it, or teaching foreign farmers not to grow drug crops, and the arrest of Americans who do.
Even before the announcement of his appointment, shots are being taken at him in Washington too tough a guy, his nonadmirers say. Somehow toughness in the anti-drug war, by therapists or enforcements that crack down on addicts and pushers, does not break my heart. Without the compulsion of the law,therapists know, most addicts would evade the treatment that could help them.
And without experts like Mr. Walters and the fine outgoing anti-drug chief Barry McCaffrey, a retired general,, the pro-drug people and organizations would get away with using the weapons even more important than the money of their sponsors the lies and distortions they throw at the public.
Gen. McCaffrey went after one of the propaganda peddlers on Tim Russerts "Meet the Press"; I treasure the transcript. The man is one Gary Johnson, the Republican governor of New Mexico. He is known outside New Mexico only because of his being an eager supporter of legalization of heroin and marijuana, and a user (former, of course) of cocaine. One by one, the general exposed Mr. Johnsons "errors" and then issued a putdown I fully intend to steal in future columns: "Everybody is entitled to their own opinions… . You are not entitled to your own facts."
Now, doctor, I have a dilemma. Here I am congratulating the new drug czar and the outgoing one, the anti-drug specialists in law enforcement and therapy, but not specifically the president.
The reason is that he has disappointed the hopes of so many people who believed he would give the country what it needs most to fight the drug war presidential leadership, the feeling that this new president would throw himself into a crusade against drugs, not just do his bureaucratic duty of appointing an anti-drug chief. He did not.
During the campaign, Mr. Bush barely spoke of the importance of fighting drugs. It took him three months in office to decide on the person he wanted, although there are a number of well-known and fully qualified people. Some of the presidents supporters say Mr. Clinton took the same amount of time; Mr. Clinton is not my role model. Some ducked the appointment because the president is seriously considering withdrawing the jobs Cabinet-rank status.
That status gave the drug czar participation in a large range of financial and social problems connected to drug-fighting and put him within the inner power loop.
Why Mr. Bush would downgrade the position nobody can or will tell me except in mumble-jumble that means nothing except embarrassment. It is not so much the new anti-drug chief who would lose status and respect as the president. Mr. Bush can win the anti-drug leadership still, but it has to be done quickly, clearly and continuously and by him, not only surrogates. It does not seem too much to ask a president to lead one of the most important struggles America faces. That is my last jolly thought for today, doctor or no doctor.


A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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