Presidential Election and the International War on Drugs

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Credit: cannacentral.com

The federal War on Drugs is controversial and was most recently called a failure by Governor Chris Christie. The United States spends billions of dollars fighting drug trafficking abroad, as well. There is a long history of U.S. involvement south of its border, namely in Columbia, Mexico and Honduras. With growing support for drug legalization, it is important to recognize both presidential candidates’ view of the Drug War.

Foreign operations combating drug trafficking is not new. United States foreign policy has not always been globally popular, but would a withdrawal from the Drug War, even through legalization, affect perception? The outlook does not look good for anti-drug war supporters. President Obama has shifted the focus from counter-narcotics operations to institutional reform through budgeting. However, legalization is out of the question for the Obama administration.

As of now, we’ve heard very little from the Romney campaign about foreign drug policy but we might be able to predict possible policy. In regards to Latin America, he states military cooperation to eliminate drug cartels as a policy goal. We will not see a change in the international war on drugs with Romney as president. Perhaps there will be a slight escalation in the militarization of the international drug war. Romney has assembled his foreign policy advisers and most have worked under the Bush Administration.

The Bush Administration spent $6 billion to fight drug trafficking in Colombia. The policy was appropriately named Plan Colombia, and it promoted a militaristic approach comparable to counter-insurgency.

The United States is involved in Honduras to fight drug operations and launched Operation Anvil in April of this year. U.S. law enforcement and Honduran agents cooperated with each other. The U.S. military is also in a supporting role. Controversy was stirred when a raid killed four on a river-boat, two of them were pregnant women, as reported by CNN. This did not harm relations between the U.S. and Honduras. Critics question the legitimacy of casualties in a peacetime setting, especially when civilians can be mistaken casualties.

The newly elected President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto has stated that he opposes legalization. He does call for increased U.S. cooperation with a focus to reduce violence.

“I’m against legalization, but with a debate where countries in the hemisphere — and especially the U.S. — should participate in this broad debate to redefine the way in which we fight drug trafficking,” Nieto said in his interview on PBS’s NewsHour.

Pena Nieto places emphasis on U.S. participation. This means there will be increased responsibility invested in the elected U.S. president for what happens in Mexico.

In recent news, the Fast and Furious scandal is another botch in the War on Drugs. The U.S. hoped to track Mexican drug cartels through a gunrunning sting operation. However, a U.S. agent, Brian Terry, was killed by cartel using weapons supplied through Fast and Furious.

The main difference between our main presidential candidates in terms of the foreign drug war is where the funding will be going. Obama shows a prioritization in fighting the drug war from an institutional perspective. Romney seeks to maintain a militarized focus, similar to the Bush Administration.

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  1. Brad R. Schlesinger Really enjoyed the piece. We've got a long way to go until we have a rational and sensible drug policy, but we're getting there -- incremental change is slow, but is change nonetheless.
  2. Craig D. Schlesinger a marginal revolution (apologies to Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok)
  3. Brad R. Schlesinger The War on Drugs is a bankrupt enterprise that causes the violence and regional instability it attempts to counter. When will the government learn that the black market for drugs is the problem and that legalization is not some radical policy solution, rather it is the exercise of control and regulation over the drug market. I'd say have we learnt nothing from alcohol prohibition, but clearly I've just answered my own question.
  4. Michael Higham I can see the legalization of marijuana being beneficial to our government and society, but the war on drugs does go beyond marijuana. I can't see cocaine being legalized, although it is used in a much smaller percentage of drug users. I do think the Drug War is a fight we can't win and militarization didn't work. I'm just afraid that Romney is so flexible in his foreign policy views that the neo-con advisors he's assembled are going to be running the show.
  5. Brad R. Schlesinger Legalizing only marijuana will not fix the regional instability in Latin America, nor will it significantly deprive the Mexican drug cartels and other drug enterprises in the US of gaudy profits. The transnational drug cartels throughout Latin America are involved in the trafficking of every kind of illegal drug. The estimates of their revenue based on marijuana alone is something like around 20%. The same problems will exist even if marijuana is legal, it will just be ameliorated ever so slightly. I can't see cocaine being legalized either, but that hardly means it shouldn't. In order to extricate ourselves from the bloody mess in Latin America, the crime and violence associated with drug gangs in the US, to stop arresting people for consensual non-violent exchanges and the possession of and use of substances, reduce our out of control prison populations, save billions in enforcement costs and new tax revenue, and place millions of people back into a position where they can engage in market transactions by allowing them to obtain credit cards and loans to go to school, or buy houses or cars, all drugs must be legalized. It might sound radical, but it is the only way. When I advocate legalization of all drugs, I am making an argument that that is born out of the principles of harm-reduction. I want the drug market controlled and regulated in a fashion like alcohol, and you can hardly say that is the current state of affairs. Legalizing drugs remove risks from user and seller alike, by making drug transactions normal economic exchanges. Consumers are then protected and made aware of things like potency and certainty of product. And where proper legal channels and proceedings like the courts are available for disputes to be resolved instead of with guns, violence, and intimidation. The drug war obviously cannot be won, because we're never going to eliminate the demand for illegal drugs. Using the military is arguably one of the dumbest ideas ever, as it will only cause more violence and death. Drug supply routes and market share are worth billions of dollars to the cartels. If you are knowingly engaged in the illegal trafficking of drugs, then shootouts with the police/military is essentially a cost of doing business. I would only say this, Obama, Romney, on the drug war, there will be no difference. Whether one wants to use the military or not, prohibition is prohibition, and the myriad of problems associated with drug prohibition will never go away so long as drugs remain illegal.
  6. Michael Higham I agree with you, really. I don't think marijuana legalization helps solve the war on drugs, but I think it'll help our domestic problems. I definitely see what you're saying about absolute legalization and how it stops the violence. The ironic part to me about this drug war stuff is how Pena Nieto talks and talks about reducing violence, but is stongly against legalization. And I'm not sure if conveyed the idea in the article but I don't think there will be a difference between Obama or Romney on this issue, just slight funding differences. Thanks for all the correspondence, Brad!
  7. Brad R. Schlesinger Sure thing! You're absolutely right about Obama and Romney -- more of the same.
  8. Craig D. Schlesinger Joe Arpaio's head just exploded!
  9. Faith Eischen Under the Bush administration, the war on drugs was also a failure in terms of increased violence. An increase in militarism will only lead to more violence...Romney should maybe rethink this strategy
  10. Malcolm Kyle An appeal to all Prohibitionists: Most of us know that individuals who use illegal drugs are going to get high - no matter what, so why do you not prefer they acquire them in stores that check IDs and pay taxes? Even if we could afford to put Narcs on every single corner, at least half of them would soon become dealers themselves. Gifting the market in narcotics to ruthless criminals, foreign terrorists and corrupt law enforcement officials is seriously compromising our future. Why do you wish to continue with a policy that has proven itself to be a poison in the veins of our once so proud & free nation? Even if you cannot bear the thought of people using drugs, there is absolutely nothing you, or any government, can do to stop them. We have spent 40 years and trillions of dollars on this dangerous farce; Prohibition will not suddenly and miraculously start showing different results. Do you actually believe you may personally have something to lose If we were to begin basing our drug policy on science & logic instead of ignorance, hate and lies? Maybe you're a police officer, a prison guard or a local/national politician. Possibly you're scared of losing employment, overtime-pay, the many kick-backs and those regular fat bribes. But what good will any of that do you once our society has followed Mexico over the dystopian abyss of dismembered bodies, vats of acid and marauding thugs carrying gold-plated AK-47s with leopard-skinned gunstocks? Kindly allow us to forgo the next level of your sycophantic prohibition-engendered mayhem. Prohibition Prevents Regulation : Legalize, Regulate and Tax!
11 comments
Brad R. Schlesinger
Brad R. Schlesinger

Really enjoyed the piece. We've got a long way to go until we have a rational and sensible drug policy, but we're getting there -- incremental change is slow, but is change nonetheless.

Brad R. Schlesinger
Brad R. Schlesinger

The War on Drugs is a bankrupt enterprise that causes the violence and regional instability it attempts to counter. When will the government learn that the black market for drugs is the problem and that legalization is not some radical policy solution, rather it is the exercise of control and regulation over the drug market. I'd say have we learnt nothing from alcohol prohibition, but clearly I've just answered my own question.

Faith Eischen
Faith Eischen

Under the Bush administration, the war on drugs was also a failure in terms of increased violence. An increase in militarism will only lead to more violence...Romney should maybe rethink this strategy

Malcolm Kyle
Malcolm Kyle

An appeal to all Prohibitionists:

Most of us know that individuals who use illegal drugs are going to get high - no matter what, so why do you not prefer they acquire them in stores that check IDs and pay taxes? Even if we could afford to put Narcs on every single corner, at least half of them would soon become dealers themselves. Gifting the market in narcotics to ruthless criminals, foreign terrorists and corrupt law enforcement officials is seriously compromising our future.

Why do you wish to continue with a policy that has proven itself to be a poison in the veins of our once so proud & free nation? Even if you cannot bear the thought of people using drugs, there is absolutely nothing you, or any government, can do to stop them. We have spent 40 years and trillions of dollars on this dangerous farce; Prohibition will not suddenly and miraculously start showing different results. Do you actually believe you may personally have something to lose If we were to begin basing our drug policy on science & logic instead of ignorance, hate and lies?

Maybe you're a police officer, a prison guard or a local/national politician. Possibly you're scared of losing employment, overtime-pay, the many kick-backs and those regular fat bribes. But what good will any of that do you once our society has followed Mexico over the dystopian abyss of dismembered bodies, vats of acid and marauding thugs carrying gold-plated AK-47s with leopard-skinned gunstocks?

Kindly allow us to forgo the next level of your sycophantic prohibition-engendered mayhem.

Prohibition Prevents Regulation : Legalize, Regulate and Tax!

Bob Morris
Bob Morris

Until the US gets serious about stopping money laundering within its own borders, their efforts to stop the flow of drugs will be mostly futile

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

I can see the legalization of marijuana being beneficial to our government and society, but the war on drugs does go beyond marijuana. I can't see cocaine being legalized, although it is used in a much smaller percentage of drug users. I do think the Drug War is a fight we can't win and militarization didn't work. I'm just afraid that Romney is so flexible in his foreign policy views that the neo-con advisors he's assembled are going to be running the show.

Brad R. Schlesinger
Brad R. Schlesinger

Legalizing only marijuana will not fix the regional instability in Latin America, nor will it significantly deprive the Mexican drug cartels and other drug enterprises in the US of gaudy profits. The transnational drug cartels throughout Latin America are involved in the trafficking of every kind of illegal drug. The estimates of their revenue based on marijuana alone is something like around 20%. The same problems will exist even if marijuana is legal, it will just be ameliorated ever so slightly. I can't see cocaine being legalized either, but that hardly means it shouldn't. In order to extricate ourselves from the bloody mess in Latin America, the crime and violence associated with drug gangs in the US, to stop arresting people for consensual non-violent exchanges and the possession of and use of substances, reduce our out of control prison populations, save billions in enforcement costs and new tax revenue, and place millions of people back into a position where they can engage in market transactions by allowing them to obtain credit cards and loans to go to school, or buy houses or cars, all drugs must be legalized. It might sound radical, but it is the only way. When I advocate legalization of all drugs, I am making an argument that that is born out of the principles of harm-reduction. I want the drug market controlled and regulated in a fashion like alcohol, and you can hardly say that is the current state of affairs. Legalizing drugs remove risks from user and seller alike, by making drug transactions normal economic exchanges. Consumers are then protected and made aware of things like potency and certainty of product. And where proper legal channels and proceedings like the courts are available for disputes to be resolved instead of with guns, violence, and intimidation. The drug war obviously cannot be won, because we're never going to eliminate the demand for illegal drugs. Using the military is arguably one of the dumbest ideas ever, as it will only cause more violence and death. Drug supply routes and market share are worth billions of dollars to the cartels. If you are knowingly engaged in the illegal trafficking of drugs, then shootouts with the police/military is essentially a cost of doing business. I would only say this, Obama, Romney, on the drug war, there will be no difference. Whether one wants to use the military or not, prohibition is prohibition, and the myriad of problems associated with drug prohibition will never go away so long as drugs remain illegal.

Brad R. Schlesinger
Brad R. Schlesinger

Sure thing! You're absolutely right about Obama and Romney -- more of the same.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

I agree with you, really. I don't think marijuana legalization helps solve the war on drugs, but I think it'll help our domestic problems. I definitely see what you're saying about absolute legalization and how it stops the violence. The ironic part to me about this drug war stuff is how Pena Nieto talks and talks about reducing violence, but is stongly against legalization. And I'm not sure if conveyed the idea in the article but I don't think there will be a difference between Obama or Romney on this issue, just slight funding differences.

Thanks for all the correspondence, Brad!