- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2001

President Bush is putting us back on the horse in the drug war, and just in time. Any war worth fighting is worth winning, and any war worth winning needs a plan, strategy and reliable implementation.

As the president takes stock of where we will go, his core focus is properly on prevention, treatment and law enforcement. That said, he must not forget that the dimensions of this battlefield are deceptive. They are wider, and the waters get deep fast. He must proactively look beyond U.S. borders, and propose bold international initiatives.

The key question is: How can America realistically score lasting victories in those nations that generate the vast majority of the cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine showing up in America?The answer: A new strategy, remorseless implementation, and hands-on presidential leadership.

Let´s talk strategy. With one voice, America´s leaders in the administration and Congress must more consistently articulate to our drug-fighting allies why the pursuit of prosperity within a culture of stability is always more attractive than big drug money hoarded in the lengthening shadow of domestic instability.

Of course, traffickers have made their choice. For them, life is of little value. They entangle themselves in an inescapable web of ruthlessness and death, a fate they somehow must see as fair exchange for a nasty, brutish, short and yes, briefly rich life. New leaders of struggling allies see life differently. New and determined leaders in Mexico and Peru, together with old allies in Colombia, Bolivia, Panama and Costa Rica are prepared to work with us. Together, we must all in this hemisphere be inspired to think bigger, not "out of the box," but as if there never was a box.

For example, we know prosperity and hope are mutually reinforcing. We also know regional economic progress is more often marked by carrots than sticks whether that memory rests on Theodore Roosevelt´s plunge into U.S. support for building the Panama Canal, America´s commitment to help rebuild El Salvador after a grueling civil war, or the moral and physical assistance we have offered allies in the drug war. In our hemisphere, if not elsewhere, unless we are standing up to outside aggression, as in Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama in the last decade, or Cuba´s dictatorship, collaborative effort yields better results than empty finger pointing.

The implications of such strategic rethinking are significant. In every country to our south vexed by the drugs, a successful long-term strategy could help bring prosperity based on a legitimate economy, anchored firmly enough that drug production was unwelcome. Such a strategy requires finding, funding and building a real and workable consensus.

That consensus must be widely shared, and begin with the realization that drug-driven instability is the primary threat to peace in our hemisphere. Why are we afraid to say this? It took the Clinton administration years to acknowledge that the drug-traffickers were linked to terrorists and amounted to a real national security threat. It should take the Bush White House no time at all to say this threat is real and like it or not, we are in this together. What hangs in the balance for some today, hangs in the balance for all tomorrow. And what is it? It is the future of democracy in the hemisphere full stop.

Then, on a collaborative footing, what can President Bush do to tip the balance back toward stability and cooperation? What starter engine might rebuild lost momentum? Four ideas pop to mind. First, a new commitment to unifying U.S. agencies and assisting them in presenting a unified approach to our allies would help. Unity of purpose would re-inspire law enforcement line agents, from Bogota and Lima to Florida and California. Are there gritty issues that will need to be talked out concerning mutual trust and information sharing? Yes. Are there operational issues that relate to making cooperation real? Of course. But Vicente President Fox in Mexico and our other drug-fighting allies further south are poised to work collegially if we will lead.

To make that happen, President Bush should consider giving at least one entire day of his own time to a closed door, U.S. principals-only White House conference on the drug war. That Cabinet- and agency-head conference should be used as a springboard for a soon-to-follow hemispheric summit of regional presidents, again led personally by Mr. Bush and focused solely on joint action in the drug war. The aim of these two powwows should be one theaterwide battle plan, with benchmarks and regular channels for communication, as well as agreed, no-nonsense conflict resolution procedures. Congress would then, one hopes, pony up and give the president assets needed to make the plan real.

Second, bridging the old conflict between demand reduction and supply reduction between prevention and treatment on one hand and law enforcement or international efforts on the other would be a service to us all. And it can be done. The great divide is really just a function of differing philosophies, one urging we tend to individuals to prevent or stop drug use through education and medicine, the other favoring an overall reduction of availability, since use rises with availability, and addiction follows increased use.

A forgotten truth is wrapped up in there somewhere, and it is strategic. Inducing lower demand in the U.S. for drugs is really a triple win. It convinces foreign allies we are serious about removing the log in our own eye. It dries up the source of drug proceeds for trafficker-led insurgents, terrorists and cartels. And it delivers improved health to America´s youngest generation, while preserving core values we hope to pass on.

Third, America is the king of technology, but we seldom use it abroad. We must start looking for synergies we have previously missed. Greater emphasis on sharing high technology in foreign field operations, seaports and airports would empower our allies to do what we have long expected of them.

For example, why not use so-called Invision CAT-scanners as a technology trap in the major airports of South America, allowing allies to stop the heroin flow north and recapture drug money flowing south? Likewise, why not use the so-called Vacus technology used throughout U.S. seaports to effectively stem the flow of large-volume cocaine shipments in legitimate sea commerce, since they can do so without breaking freight and we know this bears results at U.S. borders?

By the same token, heroin and cocaine production itself must be ground down. The big choke points are the growing places and navigable transit routes. To stop production, we need to calculate how best to get committed Colombian Police and soldiers not U.S. military personnel into the coca and heroin poppy fields before these plants are converted to deadly drugs and arrive in the United States. That plan, with sufficient air support and cost-effective helicopters to do the job, must be synchronized with other regional efforts.

Finally, in the so-called transit zone of Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, we must institutionalize unpredictability, creating a high-level, coordinated, long-term, dynamic interagency plan for interdiction. Instead of pushing the proverbial balloon one way and other, we should flex to beat the traffickers at their own game and pop the balloon. That is how the French connection, Sicilian Mafia and Medallion cartels were all shut down; we can do it again with the will to plan and follow-through.

Which leads to the capstone: presidential leadership. Great strategies and attempts at implementation in this war are useless without top-shelf leadership. That means the president himself, not least because supply reduction is at root a federal obligation, not state or local. Where does that leave us? Trusting the man in the white cowboy hat to mount his steed, wave forward the cavalry, do the deed, lead.


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