Monday, April 23, 2007

In this 60th anniversary year of George C. Marshall’s famous speech imploring America to salvage democracy from the rubble of post-World War II Europe, there are countless ironies. I will leave aside those relating to Marshall’s exceptional management of postwar reconstruction. For now, consider Colombia.

First, note that an extension of Plan Colombia — objectively, the most effective foreign policy innovation of the last decade — is under heated discussion now in Congress. In fact, today, the House International Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere Subcommittee will launch a hearing into the Plan’s shortcomings and unsettled future.

Note also that Plan Colombia, which has provided security and development support to seven nations over five years, emerged from a bipartisan commitment to counterterrorism, counternarcotics and economic development in 2000. Like the Marshall Plan, Plan Colombia’s regional focus and annual spending levels were forged in the fires of doubt and reflection, worry and hope. A consensus emerged that was embraced enthusiastically by some, reluctantly by others. “Hard” security assistance was paired with “soft” social program support.

Plan Colombia became shorthand for a new American commitment, within our own hemisphere, to a safer future. It was a commitment to supporting democratic allies and regional security, while seeking to deter narcotics cultivation, production and trafficking, and then contain sources of regional terrorism. The leap, coming as it did before September 11, 2001, was prescient.

The plan was comprehensive. The specific aims were to reduce crime, improve security, trigger the dismantling of terrorist organizations, delegitimize narcotics trafficking with heightened interdiction, reduce drug cultivation, increase the extradition of major crime figures, train Colombia’s military and national police to tackle a violent insurgency, and raise respect for human rights. The aim was not to remake South or Central America, but to offer key allies critical tools for securing their own future.

Having the vision was one thing; making it work was another. Still, a bipartisan consensus, from former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and House colleagues in both parties, to President Clinton and Democratic senators such as Chris Dodd, Diane Feinstein, Patrick Leahy and Bob Graham turned the bipartisan vision into law.

Now roughly six years after President Clinton signed this bipartisan measure, what have we achieved? Is it worth renewing? The answer is, against all odds, we have achieved a great deal. Moreover, the effort is not just worth renewing. It is actually a model — not of perfection or of a perfect pro-democracy, pro-growth, counterterrorism and counternarcotics plan, but of human progress against thorny problems through cooperation and persistence. In these days, that is noteworthy.

Specifically, Plan Colombia has generated the following remarkable outcomes:

c Plan Colombia, by U.S. and United Nations estimates, has reduced heroin poppy cultivation by 58 percent and coca cultivation by more than 50 percent over five years. That is deterrence, and we should continue pushing it.

c Plan Colombia has begun to change the much-lagged data on both price and purity levels for cocaine in the United States. Again, that is a hopeful sign.

c Plan Colombia has led to a leap in the capture, extradition, prosecution and sentencing of major drug traffickers, from 34 in 2002 to 145 in 2006, with more than 180 extraditions from 2003 to 2005, including the head of the Cali Cartel.

c Since 1999, cocaine seizures have exceeded 850 tons, while the street value of cocaine seized in 2006 alone was $847 million. Not only did those drugs not reach America, that money did not return to terrorists in South America.

c Cocaine-producing laboratories being destroyed annually has risen from 241 in 1999 to 2,198 in 2006. Again, deterrence.

c The U.S. Departments of State and Defense have been a pivot point, helping train thousands of Colombian army and police officers in human rights.

c One terrorist group has gone out of existence, another is slowly demobilizing and a third, FARC, has fallen from 25,000 members in 2002 to fewer than 12,000 today, unprecedented progress.

c For the first time in recorded history, all 1,098 Colombian municipalities are under police control, and all mayors govern from within their own townships.

c Between 2002 and 2006 homicides dropped 59.9 percent, from 28,837 murders recorded in 2002 to 17,277 in 2006, the lowest in more than 20 years.

c State Department data confirm kidnappings in Colombia fell between 2002 and 2006 from 1,645 to 646, another unprecedented decline.

c More encouraging, terrorist events have fallen more than 420 percent, from 2,882 in 2002 to 687 in 2006, a drop on par with the restoration of order in Peru and El Salvador in the 1990s.

c Economic investment, growth and job creation have, as John Locke would have predicted followed suit. As national expectations have evolved toward greater security, economic growth has leaped fivefold since 2002, to 7.68 percent in 2006.

By any standard, these measures represent astonishing progress, a thorough justification of the original bipartisan investment in a regional ally for security, counterterrorism and counternarcotics reasons. They also present a resounding endorsement for consolidating these gains with new investments, to assure our future and theirs. When Congress thinks about what to do next, this foreign policy innovation is worth tipping the hat to. One has to believe, were he alive today, even George C. Marshall might do so.

Robert B. Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement (2003-2005) and author of “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), was staff director and counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives’ National Security Subcommittee during formulation of Plan Colombia.

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