A news story that broke late yesterday makes it clearer than ever that the U.S. government plans to use the drug war as the pretext to intervene in the Colombian civil war on a massive scale. Exultant press conferences were held in Washington and Bogota to announce the arrest in Colombia of 30 drug trafficking suspects, including two described as “kingpins,” Alejandro Bernal Madrigal and Fabio Ochoa, who had previously served a jail term as an alleged leader of the old Medellin cartel.
The key to the story is what was touted as an unprecedented level of cooperation between U.S. investigators and Colombian police. “Operation Millennium” was a yearlong operation involving tapping into cellular phone communications and Internet communications systems. So we have US DEA agents teaching Colombian police how to be more efficient wiretappers. Your tax dollars at work.
Attorney General Janet “Flamethrower” Reno was especially pleased at the ability of the two governments to work together across national boundaries. “It is as if we have removed the CEOs of several major corporations who had joined together in a major conspiracy,” she whooped. Note that her idea of fighting crime is removing CEOs. “The threat of the illegal drug trade is pervasive; it knows no boundaries,” she said. “That is why it is so critical that our response was equally transnational.
It can hardly have been coincidental that the indictments were unsealed and the arrests made as the Clinton administration is about to unveil an “emergency” request for $1 billion in drug-fighting-in-Colombia money the US now sends about $290 million a year to Colombia for such tasks. The highly publicized bust is intended as the BATF’s initial raid against the Branch Davidians was almost certainly intended to be before it went so sour as an aggressive operation that can be spun as a big success, and as a prelude to a request for even bigger budgets to set up even more spectacular but useless aggressive operations.
ALL SHOW, NO BLOW
Doubt that such spectacular busts are essentially window dressing designed to justify larger budget requests rather than to do something real about the flow of drugs? All the stories carried reminders that this was the biggest, baddest bust since the capture of many leaders of the Cali cartel (which took over after the Medellin cartel was supposedly busted up) in 1995. Few mentioned that since that famous victory coca and poppy cultivation in Colombia has expanded dramatically, as have drug production and smuggling. Indeed, the main result of the attack on the Cali cartel (combined with activities in Peru and Bolivia) seems to have been to decentralize the cultivation and trafficking operations, making them that much more effective and that much more difficult to track.
Another example of government dishonesty can be seen in the released information about how much dread cocaine was seized in conjunction with the arrests and the news conferences. Various stories set the figures anywhere from 13 tons to 15 tons.
Never mind that the government claims that Alejandro Bernal Madrigal had bragged of shipping 30 tons of cocaine a month to the United States, which means at least 360 tons a year from his operation alone, which means that 13 tons seized is simply part of the cost of doing business. Tucked toward the bottom of one of the stories was news that 11 of this 13 or 15 tons was hidden in a Mexican fishing boat captured August 13 two months ago by the US Coast Guard. Was that 11 tons really part of this operation, or was it added in two months later to make the seizure seem more impressive?
Nobody seriously believes that a few more sting operations like this will do anything more than create temporary inconveniences in the drug trade, moving a few kingpins up or down various pecking orders but in general rewarding those who are most ruthless and adept at violence and concealment. But they provide a handy pretext for more massive military and police intervention into Colombia.
As Drug “Czar” Gen. Barry McCaffrey has made utterly clear, in previous statements suggesting that the guerrillas and the narcotraffickers are pretty much the same people these days, there will be no effort at all to separate US “assistance” in the drug war from US intervention into Colombia’s ongoing civil war. Indeed, every effort will be made to blur the lines, to fuzz over distinctions, to make the conflict as large-scale as possible.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of the flap surrounding this week’s military coup in Pakistan the coup itself was hardly a big deal in a country that has been run by the military for 25 of the last 52 years was the astounding ability of US spokesmen to miss the point.
“If there has been a coup,” said US State Department spokesthing Jamie Rubin, “we would obviously seek the earliest possible restoration of democracy in Pakistan.”
The military takes over in a country with nuclear missiles and Jamie Rubin delivers prim little lectures about democracy to a country whose prime minister (elected, to be sure) had spent the last year or so gathering centralized power unto himself and behaving in an increasingly authoritarian manner? Talk about misplaced priorities.
If the US has any valid interest in the region, it is to reduce the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used. There’s actually not much the US can do in that regard besides gathering intelligence and exerting pressure behind the scenes. The most effective deterrents are likely to be the fact that India has nukes too and China has little interest in seeing a big conflict, let alone a nuclear conflict, in south Asia. But Jamie Rubin can think of nothing more pertinent to say than to declare that the U.S.’s major concern should be the “restoration” of the figleaf of a set of formal procedures Winston Churchill correctly identified as the worst form of government except for all the others.
THE HEALTH OF THE STATE
During his campaign appearances over last weekend, Vice President Al Gore offered an important if inadvertent insight into the close relationship between politics and conflict and highlighted the fact that the job of those who would really try to reduce or prevent war is bigger than just criticizing specific actions and talking about peace.
Trying to make himself appear more dynamic than a tree, Gore contrasted himself with Sen. Bradley, who quit the Senate, and got his audiences chanting, as he fed them lines about Medicare, Social Security campaign reform and the like, that he and they should be proud to “Stand and Fight.”
Stand and Fight. Stand and Fight.
That’s really what politics is all about fighting over loot and promoting conflict so that more loot can be captured. It’s a long way from being an accident that even as they utter sweet words about cooperation, toleration and getting along, politicians spend most of their waking days dividing people, pitting them against one another, urging them to feel angry with one another, creating and demonizing real and imagined enemies, reminding people of grievances and urging them well, to fight and fight and fight some more.
War is merely, as Clausewitz knew, politics undertaken on a different stage and sometimes with different means. War is merely one aspect of the endless conflict the state promotes and underwrites the most horrible aspect, to be sure, but hardly different in character from its more mundane everyday activities.
For better or worse, then, if we really want to reduce war, we will almost certainly have to view the effort as part of a larger overall effort to reduce the size and scope of the state. A state allowed to remain as large as the American empire’s state is now will inevitably get into wars. It almost can’t help itself, even when or perhaps especially when led by former peaceniks.
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