With decisions on the certification of 30 drug producing nations upcoming, rumors of Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey's imminent departure, the arrival in town of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to testify before the house subcommittee on criminal justice, candid statements by Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, who was attending the annual Governors' Conference, and efforts by the Republican party to gain political traction in the wake of impeachment, Washington has been abuzz this week with talk of the drug war.
The voice that cut through the chatter, however, belonged to DEA Director Thomas Constantine, who, in separate appearances, claimed that the United States lacks the "political will" to win the drug war, and that Mexican drug cartels had become so sophisticated and well armed as to be the single greatest threat to American security.
"I know one drug mafia in Mexico alone that makes $2 billion every single year selling cocaine and methamphetamine in the United States" Constantine told USA Today, "and it has better technical equipment and countersurveillance equipment and armored cars than we do."
It is not uncommon, in Washington, to hear the heads of federal agencies decry the status quo in which the claimed inadequacy of their budget -- in the DEA's case $1.4 billion per year with a force of approximately 8,000 -- is implied as the reason for an apparent lack of success in fulfilling its mission. It must have been jarring to the administration, however, when on Wednesday, Constantine testified before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control to lay the wood to the drug trafficking situation in Mexico, a nation that the administration clearly would like to certify despite strong congressional opposition.
Speaking of Mexican drug traffickers, Constantine told the caucus, "They literally run transportation and financial empires, and an insight into how they conduct their day-to-day business leads even the casual observer to the conclusion that the United States is facing a threat of unprecedented proportions and gravity."
Constantine said that the corruption in Mexico is "unlike anything I've ever seen."
If Constantine's words grated on the Clinton Administration, they were no more pleasing to the ears of Mexican officials.
Mexican Interior Minister Francisco Labastida told reporters that Constantine's remarks "reflect a vision in which the good are on one side and the bad on the other. I deeply lament what he said."
Certification recommendations by the President are due in Congress on March 1.