Wednesday, May 9, 2001

It has been two weeks since officials in the Bush administration leaked to the New York Times the presidents intention to name John P. Walters as the new drug czar. Mr. Walters, who served as deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy during the previous Bush administration, would be an outstanding choice.

His official nomination, which at the time was said to be imminent, deserves to be made forthwith. The longer the delay, the more time Mr. Walters´ opponents have to distort his views. With his nomination reportedly pending, Mr. Walters declined to comment on the matter to the New York Times. Meanwhile, in an unseemly assault, Barry McCaffrey, the retired general whom Mr. Walters would replace as drug czar, unloaded the heavy artillery on his successor. The Times, whose news article last month characterized Mr. Walters as “a law-and-order conservative” and implicitly mocked him for, horror of horrors, “favor severe sentences for violent felons marijuana smugglers,” was only too happy to provide Gen. McCaffrey with a forum.

Gen. McCaffrey, who told the Times he had researched Mr. Walters´ views, instructed any future confirmation committee to “carefully consider” what he clearly considered to be Mr. Walters´ heretical views on treatment. “I am hopeful to maintain a commitment to the bipartisan support for treatment programs,” the general said, unfairly implying that Mr. Walters opposed drug treatment. Mr. Walters, who has written on drug policy for the op-ed page of this newspaper, has indeed opposed what he has called the “therapy-only lobby.” This lobby´s antipathy toward law enforcement and punishment, Mr. Walters argued in a recent essay in the Weekly Standard, requires it to adopt the ideological dogma that “addiction is a disease, not a pattern of behavior for which people can be held accountable.” In fact, Mr. Walters would combine treatment with law enforcement and punishment.

His critics, recently exemplified by William Raspberry in an op-ed essay in The Washington Post, have adopted the strategy of denial. Mr. Walters “harbors no misgivings over the fact that we´ve been crowding our prisons almost to the bursting point with non-violent drug offenders,” Mr. Raspberry wrote. Now, that is a ludicrous statement coming from someone who has lived in the D.C. area as long as Mr. Raspberry has. Indeed, anyone who witnessed the death and destruction that crack wrought throughout the nation´s big cities — and especially in Washington, D.C. — from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s could not honestly view the crack trade and its inevitably murderous turf wars as a non-violent activity. William Bennett, the nation´s first drug czar, has noted in a response to Mr. Raspberry´s hysterics, that Mr. Walters believes that “first- and second-time arrestees carrying small quantities of drugs should be routinely diverted from the criminal justice system to treatment and prevention programs.”

Mr. Walters, of course, is perfectly capable of defending his views and his record. The time to do that is during the confirmation process after he is nominated. So let us get on with it.

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