The War on Drugs is a failure. Or is it?

The War on Drugs is an abject failure, at least with respect to its stated purpose. Everyone—EVERYONE—knows it:

In Congress, some are losing patience. “There is great fatigue surrounding our drug programs in the Western Hemisphere,” a staff member told me. “We don’t have good ideas. We don’t have good answers. We don’t have good anything. But we also know that doing nothing is a problem. So the whole thing is on autopilot. When you’re in the machine, it’s very difficult to say anything other than ‘Keep shooting. Keep decapitating the cartels.’ ”

“The war on drugs has simply not worked,” George P. Shultz, who served as Secretary of State under Reagan, told me. “It hasn’t kept drugs out of this country.” In 2011, Shultz, along with a committee of former heads of state, businessmen, and retired U.S. officials, called for an overhaul of U.S. drug-enforcement policy. The effects of interdiction programs like Anvil, they wrote, “are negated almost instantly,” wasting money that would be better spent on treatment and harm reduction. I asked Shultz why ineffectual policies have persisted. “We haven’t felt the full effects of it ourselves,” he said. “It took us twelve years to learn that Prohibition wasn’t working. There was Al Capone, there was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The violence was here. Now we have outsourced the violence, in effect, to Mexico and Guatemala and Honduras.”

Like the NSA’s domestic surveillance that has not kept us safe (see e.g. the Boston Marathon bombings), and our illegal wars and drone bombings that create more terrorists than one could ever hope to capture or kill, the drug war is emblematic of policies that are epic failures by the standards of their own alleged purposes.

They are all wildly successful for other purposes, though. It isn’t hard to figure out who benefits.

Schwartz’s piece in The New Yorker provides a detailed map of the interlocking aspects of the drug war in Honduras from the social to the military to the political, but it fails to connect the dots. C’mon, Schwartz: who benefits?

(See also: Colombia.)

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