Alex Massie

Fail, Fail and Fail Again. So Why Bother Changing?

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If you only read one article this weekend, might I suggest you make it Ben Wallace-Wells long and brilliant Rolling Stone piece on the multiple - if well-intentioned - idiocies and failures of the War on Drugs. Since it's been running since the Nixon administration you might think that it's time for a fresh approach. Wallace-Wells concludes on a hopeful note: there are grass roots signs of a shift in attitudes amongst police departments across America and there are some signs that Democrats and some Republicans are learning from the War's manifest $50bn a year failure.

On the other hand, Washington is sufficiently thrilled with the success of Plan Colombia that it's creating a Plan Mexico and trying to replicate its Latin American triumphs (sic) in, of all places, Afghanistan. And so the madness continues. But Wallace-Wells' piece is an excellent primer of how we got into this mess. It should be read by every member of Congress and police chief in America.

Do read the whole thing, but this is more or less where we are now:

All told, the United States has spent an estimated $500 billion to fight drugs - with very little to show for it. Cocaine is now as cheap as it was when Escobar died and more heavily used. Methamphetamine, barely a presence in 1993, is now used by 1.5 million Americans and may be more addictive than crack. We have nearly 500,000 people behind bars for drug crimes - a twelvefold increase since 1980 - with no discernible effect on the drug traffic. Virtually the only success the government can claim is the decline in the number of Americans who smoke marijuana - and even on that count, it is not clear that federal prevention programs are responsible. In the course of fighting this war, we have allowed our military to become pawns in a civil war in Colombia and our drug agents to be used by the cartels for their own ends. Those we are paying to wage the drug war have been accused of ­human-rights abuses in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. In Mexico, we are now ­repeating many of the same mistakes we have made in the Andes.

"What we learned was that in drug work, nothing ever stands still," says Coleman, the former DEA official and current president of Drug Watch International, a law-and-order advocacy group. For every move the drug warriors made, the traffickers adapted. "The other guys were learning just as we were learning," Coleman says. "We had this hubris."

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietydrugs