U.S. Will Reap Crop of Regrets In Colombia
Thursday, January 18 2001
George Will, Washington Post Writers Group

WASHINGTON -- WITH THE delicacy of someone seasoned by much experience near the summit of government, Donald Rumsfeld has indicated strong skepticism about a policy from which this country may reap a bumper crop of regrets. Asked about the $1.6 billion -- so far -- undertaking to help fight the drug war in Colombia, Rumsfeld said he had not formulated an opinion. However, he embroidered his agnosticism with thoughts antithetical to the program for which George W. Bush, during the campaign, indicated support.

In his confirmation hearing, Rumsfeld, the next secretary of defense, said combating illicit drugs is "overwhelmingly a demand problem," and added: "If demand persists, it's going to get what it wants. And if it isn't from Colombia, it's going to be from someplace else."

Indeed. In authorizing the aid for Colombia, Congress demanded, delusionally, the elimination of all of Colombia's coca and opium poppy cultivation by 2005. That would almost certainly mean a commensurate increase in cultivation in Colombia's neighbors. One reason Colombia is the source of nearly 90 percent of the world's cocaine and a growing portion of heroin is that U.S. pressure on coca and poppy production in countries contiguous to Colombia, especially Peru and Bolivia, drove production into Colombia, where coca production has increased 140 percent -- to 300,000 acres -- in five years.

Now pressure on Colombia is pushing production into Colombia's neighbors. The New York Times reports that cocaine processing labs have recently been found in Ecuador's Amazon region. This is evidence that local peasants, who have crossed the border in recent years to work in the cocaine business, are "returning with the drug expertise they have acquired in Colombia."

Regarding the use of the U.S. military in policing this region, it is depressing to have to say something that should be obvious, but here goes: The military's task is to deter war and, should deterrence fail, to swiftly and successfully inflict lethal violence on enemies. It is difficult enough filling an all-volunteer military with motivated warriors without blurring the distinction between military service and police work.

The $1.6 billion for Colombia will mostly pay for helicopters that Colombia's military will use to attack drug factories and 17,000 Marxist guerrillas, who are the world's most affluent insurgents. They use drug trafficking, taxes on coca production, extortion and ransoms -- grossing perhaps as much as $900 million a year -- to wage a war now in its fourth decade. The guerrillas also are opposed by right-wing paramilitary forces -- 8, 000 strong and growing -- that are increasingly involved in drug trafficking.

Kidnapping has become industrialized in Colombia, and assassins can be hired for "a few pesos," according to Brian Michael Jenkins. Writing in the National Interest quarterly, Jenkins, an analyst of political violence and international crime, says Colombia's 30,000 murders unrelated to war translate into 100 deaths per 100,000 Colombians, a rate which in the United States would mean 250,000 murders a year.

Colombia's drug-related agonies are largely traceable to U.S. cities. Although one-third of Colombia's cocaine goes to Europe, America's annual $50 billion demand is a powerful suction pulling in several hundred tons of cheaply made, easily transportable and staggeringly profitable substances. Here is the arithmetic of futility: About one-third of cocaine destined for the United States is interdicted, yet the street price has been halved in the last decade of fighting the drug war on the supply side.

To Learn More Go To.. THE WAR ON DRUGS

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