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Southwest Asia: West Threatens to Block Iran Drug Aid Over Nuclear Issue

With Afghan opium and the heroin made from it flooding into Europe, Iran is one of the first bulwarks in the effort to stem the tide. But now, the West is threatening to condition further anti-drug assistance on Tehran's compliance with its demands that the Islamic Republic halt uranium enrichment.
International Anti-Drugs Day drug burn, Tehran
Since the overthrow of the Taliban, Iran and the West had quietly cooperated in efforts to block the trade from Afghanistan. United by a common loathing for the Sunni insurgents, Iran and the West were able to work together on this issue. But that is now in doubt.

The threat came in a package of incentives presented June 14 by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, France, Britain, China, Russia) and Germany in a bid to get Tehran to change its nuclear policy. Iran has repeatedly said it will not stop enriching uranium, and now the European Union is considering wider sanctions, including ending cooperation with Iranian anti-drug efforts.

The package promised Iran "intensified cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking" from Afghanistan, but only if it first stops uranium enrichment. Tehran insists it has the right to use such technology and says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Burdened with a 560-mile-long border with Afghanistan, Iran has deployed some 30,000 soldiers and police to fight opium and heroin smuggling from its neighbor. Some 3,500 of them have been killed in the past two decades. Last year, Iranian officials reported seizing 660 tons of opium, nearly three-quarters of the total seized worldwide. Despite such efforts and a draconian Iranian response to drug trafficking offenses -- the death penalty -- Iran suffers arguably the world's highest opiate addiction rate.

But not all the opium and heroin smuggled across the Iranian border stays in Iran, and that had UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) head Antonio Maria Costa warning that Europe could be hit by a "heroin tsunami" if anti-drug aid is blocked. "We should definitely assist in this respect," he told the Associated Press this week. "Iran is a front-line country."

The UNODC's man in Tehran, Roberto Arbitrio, told the AP fighting the drug war should be seen as "a non-political area of mutual interest."

"Cooperating with Iran in Afghanistan on this and other issues is not a favor we do for Iran -- but something we need to do in our own interest," Barnett Rubin, perhaps the leading US academic expert on Afghanistan, told the AP.

"Fighting drug trafficking should not be politicized," said Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, the top anti-drug official in Iran. "When narcotics reach Europe, it is the people, not governments, that suffer."

Such objections notwithstanding, however, drug interdiction has manifestly failed to reduce the supply, making the specter of increased drug abuse should aid be withheld an uncertain outcome.

Neither the White House and State Department nor the office of European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana would comment on the linkage between continued anti-drug assistance and Tehran's compliance with Western demands.

Drug Cops Shouldn’t be Paid With Confiscated Drug Money, But They Are

A disturbing report from NPR illustrates that many police departments have become dependent on confiscated drug proceeds in order to fund their anti-drug operations:

Every year, about $12 billion in drug profits returns to Mexico from the world's largest narcotics market — the United States. As a tactic in the war on drugs, law enforcement pursues that drug money and is then allowed to keep a portion as an incentive to fight crime.

Federal and state rules governing asset forfeiture explicitly discourage law enforcement agencies from supplementing their budgets with seized drug money or allowing the prospect of those funds to influence law enforcement decisions.

There is a law enforcement culture — particularly in the South — in which police agencies have grown, in the words of one state senator from South Texas, "addicted to drug money."

Just pause for a second and think about the implications of a drug war that funds itself with dirty money. It is just laughable to think that such conditions could exist without inviting routine corruption, from our disgraceful forfeiture laws to the habitual thefts and misconduct that occur with such frequency that we're able to publish a weekly column dedicated to them.

It is truly symbolic of the drug war's inherent hopelessness that illicit drug proceeds are needed in order to subsidize narcotics operations. If we ever actually succeeded at shrinking the drug market, we'd be defunding law-enforcement! Progress is rather obviously impossible under such circumstances.

Drug enforcement is a job like any other, and police have mouths to feed, bills to pay, maybe a little alimony here or there. So they take their paycheck and sign out; I don’t blame anyone for that in and of itself. But consider that law-enforcement operations artificially inflate the value of drugs, only to then hunt down those same proceeds, collect, and redistribute them within the police department. Morally, is that any better than the dealer who pushes dope to put food on the table?

Really, a structure such as this is not designed to achieve forward momentum towards reducing drug abuse. It's the law-enforcement equivalent of subsistence farming and it ought to warrant income substitution programs not unlike those we push on the peasants of Colombia and Afghanistan. All of this lends substantial credence to the popular conception that "the drug war was meant to be waged, not won."

Each day that the drug war rages on, its finely tuned mechanisms become more effective at sustaining itself and less effective at addressing the issues of drug abuse and public safety that supposedly justify these policies in the first place.

Vietnam Orders Police to Win the Drug War by August

It's gonna be a busy summer over there:

The Prime Minister has declared a new campaign against drugs from the beginning of June rill the end of August.

The campaign needs to bring about a great positive change in drug prevention and control, affirmed Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Forces will be tasked with eliminating all places selling drugs, arresting all drug dealers and gaining complete control over the drug business. []

No matter how many times I hear it, this kind of talk never ceases to amuse me. According to the article, they've created new drug laws to replace the old ones that "did not address funding for fighting drugs". Did they forget to fund their drug war? Is that what this means? Anyway, now they have funding so if you're selling drugs in Vietnam, you have until August.

If the Drug War Reduces Violence, Please Explain What's Happening in Mexico

The debate should be over now. All you have to do is look south to learn that the drug war is worse than a failure; it causes massive violence, corruption, and death. From The New York Times:
"When the commander, Commissioner Édgar Millán Gómez, the acting chief of the federal police, died with eight bullets in his chest on May 8, it sent chills through a force that had increasingly found itself a target."

"Top security officials who were once thought untouchable have been gunned down in Mexico City, four in the last month alone."

"Drug dealers killed another seven federal agents this year in retaliation for drug busts in border towns."

"Drug traffickers have killed at least 170 local police officers as well, among them at least a score of municipal police commanders, since Mr. Calderón took office."

"The violence between drug cartels that Mr. Calderón has sought to end has only worsened over the past year and a half. The death toll has jumped 47 percent to 1,378 this year, prosecutors say. All told, 4,125 people have been killed in drug violence since Mr. Calderón took office."

"Several terrified local police chiefs have resigned, the most recent being Guillermo Prieto, the chief in Ciudad Juárez, who stepped down last week after his second in command was killed a few days earlier."
So what does Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who instigated the massive increase in drug war violence, have to say about all this?
The president has vowed to stay the course, portraying the violence among gangs and attacks on the police as a sign of success rather than failure.
Wow. Well, I guess you've got it all figured then, Mr. President. That's good to hear, because for a second there, it sounded like everything was going to hell.

The Assassination of Mexico's Top Cop Proves That the Drug War is Failing

Anyone who thinks aggressive law-enforcement is going to solve the drug problem needs to look at what's happening in Mexico:

MEXICO CITY — Gunmen assassinated the acting chief of Mexico’s federal police early on Thursday morning in the most brazen attack so far in the year-and-a-half-old struggle between the government and organized crime gangs.

The Mexican police have been under constant attack since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2007 and started an offensive against drug cartels that had corrupted the municipal police forces and local officials in several towns along the border with the United States and on both coasts. [NY Times]

Unbelievably, George Bush and the Drug Czar are trying to give Mexico a $1.4 billion aid package to fight the cartels, even as the futility of this battle becomes more apparent every day. It is precisely the process of trying to eradicate massive drug markets that creates such brutal and perpetual violence. Thus, giving Mexico more money for the drug war is just exactly what we must not do.

This excellent clip featuring the Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady explains why the U.S. is responsible for the violence in Mexico and why the only solution is to deal with our own drug problem here at home.

O'Grady acknowledges that prohibition isn't working, and though she doesn’t say it outright, I think it's pretty clear that she knows what must be done. More of this type of talk at the Wall Street Journal is exactly what we need as the Drug Czar lobbies for funding to support even more drug war violence south of the border.

Southwest Asia: Iran Accuses West of Ignoring Afghan Opium, US Marines Conveniently Aid Tehran's Case

Iran Wednesday accused the US and NATO of indifference to Afghanistan's booming opium trade and called on the West to help fight smuggling of opium and heroin across the border the two countries share. A day earlier, an Associated Press story about US Marines newly deployed to Afghanistan's Helmand Province helped make Iran's case.
the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
In that story, some of the 2,000 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, freshly arrived in Helmand, the world's largest opium growing region and a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency, explained that they were ignoring the poppy crop because they feared alienating local residents dependent on the trade to earn a living.

"It's kind of weird. We're coming over here to fight the Taliban. We see this. We know it's bad. But at the same time we know it's the only way locals can make money," said 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, of Barnstable, Mass.

Second Lt. Mark Greenlief, 24, a Monmouth, Ill., native who commands the 2nd Platoon, said he originally wanted to make a helicopter landing zone in a local farmer's field. "But as you can see that would ruin their poppy field, and we didn't want to ruin their livelihood."

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Stover's platoon is billeted beside a poppy field planted in the interior courtyard of a mud-walled compound. The Marines' mission is to get rid of the "bad guys," and "the locals aren't the bad guys," he said. "Poppy fields in Afghanistan are the cornfields of Ohio," said Stover, 28, of Marion, Ohio. "When we got here they were asking us if it's okay to harvest poppy and we said, 'Yeah, just don't use an AK-47.'"

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, told the AP that his troops can't focus on the poppy crop when the Taliban is "terrorizing the people." The key is first to defeat the Taliban, he said. "I think by focusing on the Taliban, the poppies will go away," he said.

But the Marines, and the rest of the 30,000 US and 20,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan are caught in a terrible contradiction: If they go after the opium, they risk driving the population into the waiting arms of the Taliban. If they don't go after the opium, the Taliban makes as much as $100 million a year off its share of the trade, which goes to buy more weapons to fight the US, NATO, and the Afghan government.

Ignoring the opium crop -- Afghan opium accounts for 93% of the global supply, according to the United Nations -- does not sit well with Iran, which reportedly has the world's highest opiate addiction rate. "The exploding growth in the cultivation of opium... in Afghanistan last year has created many problems... especially for Iran," said Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, secretary of Iran's drug control headquarters, a day after the AP story appeared.

"We think NATO and foreign forces in Afghanistan are indifferent to the issue of drugs and have put other goals as their priorities," Ahmadi Moghaddam told a conference of officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "Since the time they entered (Afghanistan) we are witnessing an explosive rise in the production of drugs," he said.

Iran is spending $600 million a year to stop Afghan drugs from coming into the country, and could use some help from the West, which is evidently ignoring the problem, he complained. "Iran requests the serious and practical cooperation of the international community, especially European countries, as the main destination for smugglers, in fighting drug trafficking."

If Progress in the Drug War is Measured in Dead Bodies, It's Going Well

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has drawn praise from U.S. drug warriors for his commitment to fighting back against the drug cartels. Unfortunately, current strategies for reducing drug trade violence tend to have the opposite of their intended effect. Via New York Times, this is what you get when you really crack down on the drug traffickers:
"a hand-scrawled list of 22 officers, 5 of whom had already been gunned down in the street."

"A turf war among drug cartels has claimed more than 210 lives in the first three months of this year."

"The number of homicides this year is more than twice the total number of homicides for the same period last year."

"Several mass graves hiding 36 bodies in all have been discovered in the backyards of two houses owned by drug dealers."

"At the height of the violence, around Easter, bodies were turning up every morning, at a rate of almost 12 a week."

"'Neither the municipal government, nor the state government, is capable of taking on organized crime,' Mayor José Reyes Ferriz said in an interview."

"The local police are outgunned, underpaid, prone to corruption and lack the authority to investigate drug dealers…"

"The first batch of 150 new recruits came out of the academy in January, but they entered a force where most officers either feared drug dealers too much to move against them or lived on their payroll."
After decades of full-scale international drug war, the central fronts in this great crusade appear before us today literally smoldering, littered with shell-casings and stained in blood. That is drug prohibition's legacy and it will not change or improve. Violence will fluctuate between frequent and perpetual. Illicit drug markets will fluctuate between high availability and totally saturation. That is just the way it is and the way it will always be so long as the people currently in charge of addressing the drug problem are permitted to continue trying their ideas.

Thus, any realistic debate over our drug laws shouldn't be spiked with fictitious references to future victories or meaningful progress. An honest defense of the drug war, if such a thing could exist, would have to defend our current conditions and claim that it would be best if things stayed this way forever.
United States

Job Opportunity: Kill People For a Mexican Drug Cartel

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is super popular with U.S. drug warriors for his crackdown on drug trafficking, but it doesn’t sound like the cartels are very scared. If they were, they wouldn't be posting job listings on the highways:
(AP) Hitmen tied to Mexico's Gulf cartel appear to be boldly seeking recruits by posting help-wanted signs in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, including a giant banner hung across a thoroughfare, a federal anti-drug enforcement official said Monday.

The banner appeared over the weekend in Nuevo Laredo near the border with Texas: "Operative group 'The Zetas' wants you, soldier or ex-soldier. We offer a good salary, food and benefits for your family. Don't suffer anymore mistreatment and don't go hungry."
Yeah, Calderon's drug war troop surge is a joke that serves only to delay the inevitable realization that the drug war is a contractual guarantee of endless violence. The cartels aren't the least bit intimidated and we haven’t seen a fraction of the violence that is possible if Calderon wants to throw more gas on the fire.

He'll be voted out of office by war-weary constituents long before he ever drives out the powerful organizations that recruit their armies right out in the open. There is only one way to close these drug war job openings and that is to end the war on drugs.
United States

Bush and the Drug Czar Want You to Pay For the Mexican Drug War

President Bush and Drug Czar John Walters want Congress to give Mexico $1.4 billion of our money to waste on the drug war. Mexico can't afford a massive drug war like ours, so we're supposed to just go ahead and buy them one. It's a terrible plan.

Just listen to all the stuff the Drug Czar wants to buy for them. It's like building decades of drug war infrastructure overnight. The very fact that you need all this stuff ought to provide a clue that drug prohibition is a raging disaster of an idea:
*Non-intrusive inspection equipment, ion scanners, canine units for Mexican customs, for the new federal police and for the military to interdict trafficked drugs, arms, cash and persons.
*Technologies to improve and secure communications systems to support collecting information as well as ensuring that vital information is accessible for criminal law enforcement.
*Technical advice and training to strengthen the institutions of justice – vetting for the new police force, case management software to track investigations through the system to trial, new offices of citizen complaints and professional responsibility, and establishing witness protection programs.
*Helicopters and surveillance aircraft to support interdiction activities and rapid operational response of law enforcement agencies in Mexico.
*Initial funding for security cooperation with Central America that responds directly to Central American leaders’ concerns over gangs, drugs, and arms articulated during July SICA meetings and the SICA Security Strategy.
*Includes equipment and assets to support counterpart security agencies inspecting and interdicting drugs, trafficked goods, people and other contraband as well as equipment, training and community action programs in Central American countries to implement anti-gang measures and expand the reach of these measures in the region.
Of course, the fact that we're even talking about this just shows the pathetic state of affairs we've achieved after decades of drug war demolition tactics. With nothing to show for the untold billions we've already poured down the drug war drain, our tough drug generals just want more money and more time.

The drug cartels are already funded by U.S. drug dollars. If we buy Mexico an entire anti-drug army to fight them, we'll be funding both sides of a brutal war in a foreign nation all because we can't come to terms with our own drug use.

The violence and chaos has to stop and it won't stop if we spend $1.4 billion to continue it. The mess in Mexico is our responsibility, but only because we've been so stupid about drugs for so long. This war can only end one way and that is to bring home the soldiers and send in the tax collectors.
United States

Editorial: Should Philadelphia Be Excited About Its Big Drug Bust?

David Borden, Executive Director
David Borden
Should we be excited? Police agencies in Philadelphia have announced a record drug bust for the city. According to the press conference, held Wednesday by the Philadelphia Police Department, the US Attorney's Office and the FBI, the stash they nabbed consisted of 274 kilos of cocaine worth about 28 million dollars.

An FBI spokesperson told the press, "This significant seizure prevented these drugs from entering our community." But doesn't that depend on how one defines the term "these drugs"? If the term is meant to refer to that particular shipment, then yes, that specific pile of cocaine will (probably) not enter the Philadelphia community.

If, however, the term is meant to refer to cocaine itself, the type of drug, it's doubtful -- no, impossible -- that the seizure could reduce the amount of it in Philadelphia, at least not for very long. The problem is that drug traffickers are clever and industrious people, and they expect that some of the stuff that they ship to any given region is going to get intercepted. On any given day, they probably don't expect a record to get set, on that particular day. But that doesn't mean they aren't prepared if it does. Doubtless one or more batches are now moving up I-95 or some other artery, or are headed to Philly through some other means of transport, if they're not already there.

The truth is that there probably won't be a shortage of cocaine in Philadelphia for even a week, if there is any shortage of it even now. By the end of two weeks, there will be little evidence left at all that a record-sized drug bust ever occurred, other than the police records and the past media reports. Of course the authorities won't be particularly eager to inform the press that their record-sized drug bust has been completely undone by the force of the market. Ironically, media would probably not consider the lack of long-term impact from the bust to be newsworthy, because that's literally what has happened on every previous occasion.

Ultimately, the bust itself is the best proof that the bust won't make any difference. Arrests and seizures and prosecutions for drugs are the norm for the United States, in Philadelphia and everywhere else. Yet for all that effort, sustained and conducted aggressively for decades, the demand for cocaine is still so strong that the quantities in which it is found continue to set records. And that is a record of failure by any reasonable definition of the word.

So while I'm sure the press conference was exciting for the people involved in it, I'm not excited, and I don't see why I should be. When people decide that it's time to try something different, because they realize how much they've been throwing away in money and manpower and lives, that will be much more exciting than a pile of powder and a group of law enforcement brass behind a podium ever could be.

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