The war on drugs and the war on terror

The war on terror is not the first we’ve fought against a poorly-defined enemy, where every short-lived victory brings us closer to defeat. That honor goes to the so-called war on drugs.

The deeper you dig, the more similarities you find between the two.

Both wars were started by presidents who talked tough but whose successes were superficial. Both were enabled by conservative pundits and by a spineless opposition that knew we were driving into a brick wall but were too afraid to state the obvious.

Both have cost ungodly amounts of money — many times what it would’ve cost for an alternative strategy. Fighting drugs with treatment for addicts and jobs for inner cities would’ve cost less than what we’ve poured into cops, courts and jails over the last 30 years.

We also would have saved trillions by treating 9/11 as what it was: The greatest international crime in recent memory, a mass murder perpetrated not by a state but by a madman and his criminal network. Instead, it was called “an act of war,” and we responded to a spectre of our own making by waging a war against an idea. Eight years and trillions of dollars later, our boys and girls are still in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no end in sight.

The war on drugs was also fought with a hammer, when a scalpel was better suited to the task. Our leaders went after the distributors — most of whom had dark skin and lived in places with no political power. Urban neighborhoods are to the U.S. what Afghanistan and Iraq are to the world: eternal basket cases with no friends to lift a finger on their behalf.

If we weren’t hypocrites, we’d fight the war on drugs at the consumption end, punishing use as well as distribution, but that would mean imprisoning the sons and daughters of the rich and powerful, not just those of the underclass.

If we weren’t hypocrites, we’d fight the war on terror at the consumption end, too — investing in ways to break our addiction to foreign oil. The money Obama wants to spend on energy is a fraction of the cost of the war on terror.

Finally, fighting a war on drugs without including tobacco and alcohol is as absurd as fighting a war on terror without controlling the production and distribution of weapons. Instead of invading Iraq, we could’ve been corralling loose nukes and keeping weapons from leaving our borders.

Because of our misplaced aggression, millions have suffered, while Bin Laden and the drug lords roam free. The corner drug dealer is rotting in jail, while the CEOs of Philip Morris, Seagrams and Exxon/Mobil are still buying favors from politicians.

Don’t accuse me of being soft on terror. I want to get Bin Laden as much as the next guy, but cooking up a case against Saddam Hussein was not the way to do it.

I’m also not an apologist for drug use. I’ve experienced first-hand what addiction does to families, but I’m a realist, and I know that what we’re doing — throwing victims in jail while the real culprits laugh — isn’t working.

Our current president is veering away from the phrase “war on terror,” but he seems unlikely to lead us away from the war on drugs, even though the average American agrees with me. The folks on the far right think Obama’s a socialist, but when it comes to the drug war, he sings the same tune as Reagan and Bush.

For now, we’re saddled with two expensive and unwinnable “wars,” yet the only anger the masses can muster is over tax increases (mostly for the super-rich) and a stimulus package that may be our only hope in getting out of a hole dug by the same people who hung these two albatrosses around our necks.

If you’re mad about taxes and government spending, get mad at the war on drugs, the war on terror, and the fools who repay evil with evil.

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