|Week Online: During Sunday's SuperBowl,
the drug czar's office ran a series of paid ads attempting to link drug
use and the "war on terrorism." If you use drugs, the ads said, you
support terrorism. What is your take on this?
Noam Chomsky: Terrorism is now being
used and has been used pretty much the same way communism was used.
If you want to press some agenda, you play the terrorism card. If
you don't follow me on this, you're supporting terrorism. That is
absolutely infantile, especially when you consider that much of the history
of the drug trade trails right behind the CIA and other US intervention
programs. Going back to the end of the second world war, you see
-- and this is not controversial, it is well-documented -- the US allying
itself with the French Mafia, resulting in the French Connection, which
dominated the heroin trade through the 1960s. The same thing took
place with opium in the Golden Triangle during the Vietnam War, and again
in Afghanistan during the war against the Russians.
WOL: The cocaine trade is the primary
given reason for US intervention in Colombia's civil war. In your
opinion, to what degree is the drug angle a pretext? And a pretext
Chomsky: Colombia has had the worst
human rights record in the hemisphere in the last decade while it has been
the leading recipient of US arms and training for the Western Hemisphere
and now ranks behind only Israel and Egypt worldwide. There exists
a very close correlation that holds over a long period of time between
human rights violations and US military aid and training. It's not
that the US likes to torture people; it's that it basically doesn't care.
For the US government, human rights violations are a secondary consequence.
In Colombia, as elsewhere, human rights violations tend to increase as
the state tries to violently repress opposition to inequality, oppression,
corruption, and other state crimes for which there is no political outlet.
The state turns to terror -- that's what's been happening in Colombia for
a long time, since before there was a Colombian drug trade. Counterinsurgency
has been going on there for 40 years; President Kennedy sent a special
forces mission to Colombia in the early 1960s. Their proposal to
the Colombian government was recently declassified, and it called for "paramilitary
terror" -- those are their words -- against what it called known communist
proponents. In Colombia, that meant labor leaders, priests, human
rights activists, and so on. Colombian military manuals in the 1960s
began to reflect this advice. In the last 15 years, as the US has
become more deeply involved, human rights violations are up considerably.
On a more serious point, suppose that the
drug pretext were legitimate. Suppose that the US really is trying
to get rid of drugs in Colombia. Does Colombia then have the right
to fumigate tobacco farms in Kentucky? They are producing a lethal
substance far more dangerous than cocaine. More Colombians die from
tobacco-related illnesses than Americans die from cocaine. Of course,
Colombia has no right to do that.
WOL: Domestically, state, local,
and federal governments have spent tens of billions of dollars on the "war
on drugs," yet illicit drugs remain as available, as pure, and as cheap
as ever. If this policy is not accomplishing its stated goal, what
is it accomplishing? Is there some sort of latent agenda being served?
Chomsky: They have known all along
that it won't work, they have good evidence from their own research studies
showing that if you want to deal with substance abuse, criminalization
is the worst method. The RAND report did a cost-effectiveness analysis
of various drug strategies and it found that the most effective approach
by far is prevention and treatment. Police action was well below
that, and below police action was interdiction, and at the bottom in terms
of cost-effectiveness were out-of-country efforts, such as what the US
is doing in Colombia. President Nixon, by contrast, had a significant
component for prevention and treatment that was effective.
US domestic drug policy does not carry
out its stated goals, and policymakers are well aware of that. If
it isn't about reducing substance abuse, what is it about? It is
reasonably clear, both from current actions and the historical record,
that substances tend to be criminalized when they are associated with the
so-called dangerous classes, that the criminalization of certain substances
is a technique of social control. The economic policies of the last
20 years are a rich man's version of structural adjustment. You create
a superfluous population, which in the US context is largely poor, black,
and Hispanic, and a much wider population that is economically dissatisfied.
You read all the headlines about the great economy, but the facts are quite
different. For the vast majority, these neoliberal policies have
had a negative effect. With regard to wages, we have only now regained
the wage levels of 30 years ago. Incomes are maintained only by working
longer and harder, or with both adults in a family working. Even
the rate of growth in the economy has not been that high, and what growth
there is has been highly concentrated in certain sectors.
If most people are dissatisfied and others
are useless, you want to get rid of the useless and frighten the dissatisfied.
The drug war does this. The US incarceration rate has risen dramatically,
largely because of victimless crimes, such as drug offenses, and the sentences
are extremely punitive. The drug war not only gets rid of the superfluous
population, it frightens everybody else. Drugs play a role similar
to communism or terrorism, people huddle beneath the umbrella of authority
for protection from the menace. It is hard to believe that these
consequences aren't understood. They are there for anyone to see.
Back when the current era of the drug war began, Senator Moynihan paid
attention to the social science, and he said if we pass this law we are
deciding to create a crime wave among minorities.
For the educated sectors, all substance
abuse was declining in the '90s, whether we're talking about cocaine or
cigarette smoking or eating red meat. This was a period in which
cultural and educational changes were taking place that led the more educated
sectors to reduce consumption of all sorts of harmful substances.
For the poorer sectors, on the other hand, substance abuse remained relatively
stable. Looking at these curves, we see that what will happen, it
is obvious you will be going after poor sectors. Some legal historians
have predicted that tobacco would be criminalized because it is associated
with poorer and less-educated people. If you go to McDonald's, you
see kids smoking cigarettes, but I haven't seen a graduate student who
smoked cigarettes for years. We are now beginning to see punitive
consequences related to smoking, and of course the industry has seen this
coming for years. Phillip Morris and the rest have begun to diversify
and to shift operations abroad.
WOL: Many ardent drug reformers are
self-identified Libertarians. As an anarchist -- I assume it is fair
to call you that -- what is your take on libertarianism?
Chomsky: The term libertarian as
used in the US means something quite different from what it meant historically
and still means in the rest of the world. Historically, the libertarian
movement has been the anti-statist wing of the socialist movement.
Socialist anarchism was libertarian socialism. In the US, which is
a society much more dominated by business, the term has a different meaning.
It means eliminating or reducing state controls, mainly controls over private
tyrannies. Libertarians in the US don't say let's get rid of corporations.
It is a sort of ultra-rightism.
Having said that, frankly, I agree with
them on a lot of things. On the drug issue, they tend to oppose state
involvement in the drug war, which they correctly regard as a form of coercion
and deprivation of liberty. You may be surprised to know that some
years ago, before there were any independent left journals, I used to write
mainly for the Cato Institute journal.
WOL: What should be done about drug
use and the drug trade?
Chomsky: I agree with RAND.
It is a problem. Cocaine is not good for you. If you want to
deal with substance abuse, the approach should be education, prevention,
rehabilitation and so forth. That is what we have successfully done
with other substances. We did not have to outlaw tobacco to see a
reduction in use; that is the result of cultural and educational changes.
One must always be cautious in recommending social policy because we can't
know what will happen, but we should be exploring steps toward decriminalization.
Let's undertake this seriously and see what happens. An obvious place
to begin is with marijuana. Decriminalization of marijuana would
be a very sensible move. And we need to begin shifting from criminalization
to prevention. Prevention and treatment are how we should be addressing
hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin.