Melinda Hawkins

ONDCP Funds Propaganda With Our Money

I was recently perusing the television advertisements released by the Office on National Drug Control Policy, curious to see how my tax dollars were being squandered. A particularly telling example of the ONDCP's determination to waste billions of dollars advancing misinformation is a series of drug war propaganda commercials featuring two characters named Nick and Norm. The Nick and Norm commercials expose the thinly veiled contempt by Washington's drug warriors for the intelligence of the American public.

Let's start with "Not That Complicated," the basic premise of which is apparently to convince all of us who like a little critical thinking with our policy decisions, that in fact, thinking is overrated. Nick dares to suggest to Norm that the connection between drugs and terror is "very complicated." Norm is aghast! How can Nick be so foolish as to believe that our widely despised war on drugs and its brand new connection to terrorism is complicated?

Lucky for Nick, Norm is there to teach this misguided fool a lesson in simplistic arguments, and just in time, too. One second more and we might have been forced to consider the possibility that the war on drugs, particularly when tied to the war on terror, is indeed a complicated thing.

Observe Norm's one-dimensional logic train, as he sums up the issue in this way: "No drug buyers, no drug money. No drug money, no drug dealers. No drug dealers, no drug murders, shootings, bribery, corruption." Nick, who now stands corrected, says contritely, "Not that complicated."

Since the first link in this chain is "no drug buyers," let's start with that. It is incredible that there are still people who believe our cornucopia of social ills will be solved by convincing everyone on the planet to stop using drugs. Considering that there has never been, in the known history of human civilization, a society that did not use drugs, this seems like a bit of a stretch.

Furthermore, the underlying assumption that legal drugs are comparably harmless is not supported by facts. Remember that even if we were to cast a magical spell that eliminated every illegal drug, we would not be a drug free society. We would still use considerable quantities of alcohol and tobacco, two dangerous legal drugs that receive plenty of congressional support in exchange for generous campaign contributions to both the Democrat and Republican parties.

Just to gain a bit of perspective on the comparative harmfulness of illegal versus legal drugs, consider that according to the World Health Organization, in the year 2000, cigarette smoking "was responsible for the premature deaths of 4.2 million people." They further note that, "Tobacco kills more than AIDS, legal drugs, illegal drugs, road accidents, murder, and suicide combined." Doesn't the legality of the deadly drug tobacco qualify as a complication when discussing the war on drugs?

Another Nick and Norm commercial begins with Nick arguing that only a couple of bucks will make it to the "bad guys" if he buys a bag of "dope." Is Nick referring to marijuana? Because if he is, Nick need only buy domestically grown marijuana, to assure himself that no money whatsoever will make it into the hands of the "bad guys." Of course, Norm doesn't make this sensible suggestion. He says, "So what you're saying is it's ok to support terrorism a little." The problem with this outrageous assessment is that there are plenty of ways in which American consumers do support terrorism, not a little but a lot.

Deborah Small, a spokesperson for the harm reduction group Drug Policy Alliance, discussed two of the more lucrative sources of terrorist funding in an interview for CounterSpin, FAIR's weekly radio show. The subject of discussion was an ONDCP commercial that aired during the Superbowl last year. This widely criticized, extremely expensive bit of propaganda was the first to attempt to create a link between drug use and terrorism by characterizing teenage pot smokers as murderers.

"It is a major leap to suggest that people who are buying or using illegal drugs here in the U.S. are directly financing terrorism. If we're going to make that argument against people who use drugs, then we should make that same argument against people who wear diamonds or use gasoline, because we know that profits from the diamond industry and the petrochemical industry often find their way into the hands of terrorists," Small said.

However, I doubt Norm will be directing his simplistic rhetoric at the people who use inordinate amounts of gasoline in a fit of gluttonous consumption. Nor will he likely be expressing his disgust towards people who buy diamonds, despite the fact that he could find plenty of dismembered children in Africa who could help illustrate the connection between diamonds and terror in a way that even the most unimaginative could understand.

But it shouldn't surprise us that Norm ignores these things. After all, the ONDCP wouldn't want to ruin their crude arguments defending the war on drugs by addressing pesky, complicated facts. The war on terror is a funding bonanza that drug warriors are determined to take advantage of, and as for diamond buyers and their connection to terror, don't expect a commercial about that any time soon. After all, we don't say things like that to the people who fund our reelection campaigns.

Here's another complication for Norm: What about the many ways in which our manipulative interventions in the name of the war on drugs are actively funding terror in places like Colombia? Perhaps Norm is simply unaware that our insistence on the eradication of the lucrative coca crop has resulted in U.S. funding for shadowy Colombian paramilitaries that are responsible for what can only be called a murderous rampage.

In his article, "Agent Green over the Andes," Jeffrey St. Clair points out, "Colombia is mired in a three-way civil war, with each side, guerillas, paramilitaries and the government troops, funding their operations from proceeds from the sale of drugs. The bloodier the conflict, the greater the flow of drugs." Yet U.S. drug warriors continue to finance this brutal conflict in the name of the war on drugs.

A reasonable person cannot help but ask: Are some kinds of terrorism worse than others? Isn't this a complicated question? I find it hard to believe that the families of the disappeared in Colombia appreciate the stubborn assertion that the war on drugs must continue to supply and excuse these murderous groups. According to U.S. Drug Czar John Walters, "If you stop drug use in America you help fight terror." However, it seems far more accurate to say that if you stop the war on drugs in America you help fight terror.

After all, it is the war on drugs itself that creates the financial incentive for violent turf wars over this increasingly lucrative black market commodity. As Bruce Mirken of the medical marijuana advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project points out, "It is the war on drugs that funds terrorism by driving up drug profits and forcing the drug trade underground." Furthermore, our support for vicious gangs of thugs in Colombia in the name of the war on drugs is directly responsible for funding terror in ways that no lowly drug user could ever hope to accomplish. No, it takes the power and money of the United States government to make such an effective and expensive contribution to terrorists.

I could ask Norm more complicated questions. I could ask him to explain to me how a government can justify terrorizing the terminally ill and permanently disabled by invading their homes with automatic weapons, and hauling them to prison in their wheelchairs. I could ask how a government that expends enormous resources for the purpose of attacking and imprisoning people who are extremely ill expects to assume the moral high ground on terror, but I doubt I would get much of an argument.

The claim that we should continue to oppose the war on drugs because the war on drugs creates drug dealers that act like terrorists begs the question. The ONDCP should not be granted the assumption that illegal drugs create terror, when it is the illegality of these substances that creates terror, rather than the substances themselves.

Although the makers of this particular series apparently find eye-rolling sarcasm and ad hominem attacks to be legitimate arguments in their attempts to characterize drug users as terrorists, some of us expect the policies of the wealthiest nation in the world to be a bit more sublime. Saying repeatedly that drug users are terrorists will not convince citizens who continue to expect U.S. policy makers to live up to and reflect the standards of a well-educated nation.

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