Thursday, February 12, 2004
There Is a War On
No, I don't mean the President's War on Terrorism, which, by the way, did not begin on 9-11 (just ask the families of the Marines who died in Beirut or those who lost loved ones over Lockerbie). The Rev. Jesse Jackson informs us that there are more Black men in prison than there are in college. Since most of these caged citizens could live damn well for the money that it costs the rest of us taxpayers to keep them locked up each year, this simple statistic speaks volumes about how crazy the priorities of this society have become. Most of the inmates in our prisons are there because of another war, The War on Drugs.
I don't recall which of our former Presidents formally declared that War on Drugs. Whether it was meant to be more than a catch phrase designed to show voters that the Noble Leader was tough on crime now escapes me. I do remember that there was a Drug Czar appointed to be the General in Charge of Hostilities, and that we have since poured vast sums of taxpayer dollars into the fray. We certainly succeeded in filling a lot of prisons, but I must confess that I do not feel a whole lot safer for it, nor has the war brought victory.
So soon we forget the abject failure of our previous attempts to outlaw popular substances. This nation's experiment with banning the drug called alcohol spawned an era of lawlessness and organized crime the effects of which are still felt. We have done so much better since we accepted the fact that many folks are going to drink booze regardless of what some legislate to be their current view of morality. When we repealed Prohibition, we redirected considerable wealth from the pockets of gang lords into the US treasury by taxing alcohol heavily. We have since gained considerable ground on controlling the consequences of alcohol abuse by getting tough on drunk drivers, changing societal attitudes about drunkenness, and treating alcoholism as the disease that it is. Notice that it was not laws about possession or use of alcohol that gave us better control; it was vigorous enforcement of laws for anti-societal behavior caused by irresponsible use of the substance, and programs to care for the afflicted that eventually did the job.
It is, after all, only an accident of history that made tobacco and alcohol legal substances and other forms of addictive drugs illegal ones. By the time our new nation got around to passing the relevant laws, the ruling class of the era (white, male, landowners) included a considerable and powerful constituency that had made fortunes off alcohol and tobacco, and most of the rest of them used and enjoyed one or the other, or both. No one in this day can dispute that these two substances are highly addictive to a large number of persons, or that their prolonged use or abuse cause serious and substantial public health problems. No logic that I have come across distinguishes these legal drugs from those that we have classified as illegal and criminalized with the severest penalties. The war on drugs is a failure not because drugs are good for us, nor should we give up on trying to cope with the misery that they cause. That war is a failure because war is not a very effective solution to a public health problem, and a country that tries to solve all its problems by going to war on them is neither smart nor sane.
So what of the War on Terrorism? Certainly this is a legitimate problem where the use of military force is more appropriate than in the War on Drugs. Well, yes, but we need to be careful about how we spend the blood and treasure of this Nation. Wasn't Adolph Hitler a terrorist? The fact that he seized control of an entire nation state as his instrument of terror, and made conventional war on his neighbors, made it a no brainer as to how to deal with him. The rulers of Japan similarly obliged us by their cowardly unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. We knew the formula for success: beat your armies in the field, beat your navies on the sea, beat your air force in the sky, and make rubble out of your cities (radioactive or otherwise) until you surrender. It works for nation states, but a new threat is at hand: stateless terrorism.
Stateless terrorism shares many characteristics with unconventional warfare conducted in a foreign land where a significant segment of the civilian populace supports the enemy. We lost one of those wars in Vietnam. Now we don't need the entire redux of that conflict to remind us of the tragedy.
We underestimated the enemy.Even had we avoided the first three of these mistakes, the final one would have proved fatal. War isn't about battles; it is about forcing the will of one society upon another society that opposes it. It is persuasion by force, with killing as the preferred means.
I cringe when I hear someone describe the war on terrorism as a struggle for the hearts and minds of Islam. Real war isn't about winning hearts and minds; it is about kicking serious butt. We did not win WW II by capturing the hearts of the German or Japanese People. We defeated their military, crushed their economy, frightened their populace, forced their surrender, and occupied their country. Only then could we go about the business of winning hearts and minds. We must now bring about an analogous result in the struggle with stateless global terrorist organizations. We are unlikely to achieve such a result with friendly persuasion. We are equally unlikely to reach that goal by the use of conventional military forces alone. We have demonstrated both the effectiveness and the limitations on the use of US military power in Afghanistan and Iraq. The military works fine as an instrument of regime change. Once that initial result is achieved, it is time to bring the troops home and institute new measures.
So, OK, wise guy, what should those new measures be? I thought you would never ask.
First, we seize control of all the drug producing regions on the face of the planet with our superb military, which we have now withdrawn from Iraq. Yes, this means redeploying some of the forces to occupy most of Columbia, parts of other South American countries, regions of Afghanistan, Mendocino County, and several other sovereign states. Small matter; our new Preemption Doctrine will cover this. Illegal drugs constitute a continuing clear and present danger to our American way of life, and are an imminent serious threat to the security and internal peace of these United States. Even if they didn't, we have demonstrated to the world by our actions in Iraq that we do not have to be right about the nature of the threat. A sincere but unfounded belief that a threat exists seems to be all that is required to invade foreign nations and depose rulers. Why, in most cases to gain our objective we needn't depose anyone; all we need do is gain control of those selected regions where illegal drugs are grown or otherwise produced.
Having established exclusive control over the means of production of illegal drugs, we turn that industry over to the FDA for appropriate regulation. Not only does the government now police the purity and safety of these dangerous substances, it can stabilize the pricing by means of crop subsidies to the farmers who grow them. At the other end of the food chain, we leave it to each of the States to determine how to sell and dispense the said drugs, just as we do for tobacco and alcohol, reserving for the federal treasury a substantial revenue stream in the form of a steep excise tax. These revenues at the federal level are earmarked for drug treatment programs and other public health measures to care for any who are or who become addicted to drugs. The individual States can decide whether to sell the drugs through State-run package stores, or place them on shelves of every supermarket, much as they do now. Strict State laws are enforced (as they are now) about sale to minors, driving under the influence, violence while intoxicated, or destruction of property caused by misuse of these substances.
Next, we immediately disband the Department of Homeland Security. Since its major contribution to date (except for producing a temporary spike in the sale of duct tape) has been the creation of a color-coded terror alert system that most of the public has learned to ignore, we can take a paltry few thousand dollars of the billions saved and purchase a giant color wheel like they use on the Big Spin. The function of spinning this wheel once a week could be turned over to the Department of the Interior, which would assume responsibility for setting the weekly alert status. This might divert some of its attention from gutting the protection of our National Parks. Alternatively, the Environmental Protection Agency could assume the task, if it can find the time from its divers efforts to dismantle our environmental protection regulations. Whichever federal agency takes over its functions, stopping the Homeland Security Juggernaut in its tracks has so many salutary effects it is difficult to count them. It would eliminate a whole new layer of Bureaucracy. It would spawn a RIF within the federal civil service and produce the largest Stopper List in history, possibly reducing the size of the federal government. It would also produce many billions of dollars in annual savings.
Ah, but how, you ask do we keep our homeland safe from the terrorist threat? The answer of course is outsourcing. Of the many billions of dollars saved from the funds appropriated by Congress for Homeland Security, we reallocate those taxpayer resources three ways. One third of the budget is used to fund a meaningful prescription drug benefit for our seniors. There is a catch to these new benefits. Any senior receiving them must join a Neighborhood Terrorist Watch Unit. Many of the old folks are retired and have a lot of time on their hands. They are mostly busybodies anyway, and would be just delighted to perform a civic duty by keeping their eyes peeled for suspicious individuals and activities. We could issue them all badges to wear on their cardigans, and a special phone with extra large number and letter keys to call in their reports.
A second portion of the former Homeland Security Budget would be used to hire the local street gangs in every city in the Country. These guys are tough, well-armed, and well organized. With the drug money now going into the government coffers instead of into their pockets, they will be hungry for new sources of revenue. They already know everything that goes on in their respective neighborhoods. Pity the poor terrorist who sets foot on the turf of one of these special units in Southeast LA or the South Bronx. He will never know what hit him. Putting these gangs on the government payroll has another expected benefit as well. Eventually they will become dependent on the government as their source of funding. This will be the first step toward socializing this disaffected and dangerous segment of our society, and redirecting its energy to a useful, common good purpose.
The final third of the former Homeland Security money pot will also be put to good use in the fight against international stateless terror. We will use it to fund a War Corps patterned on the very successful Peace Corps. This group will be made up of violent individuals who want to wreak havoc on their fellow man in a way that will not result in punishment, but will rather be rewarded. An example of how this might work will clarify the concept.
Imagine a government sponsored outreach program to recruit some of the better known motorcycle club members in the country. We offer them an all-expenses-paid ride through Afghanistan with permission to kill as many al Qaida and Taliban as they can find. They can each bring up to two bikes, and any weapons of choice, plus we will fill their saddlebags with all the ammunition and MREs they will hold. Helmets and headgear are optional at all times. Everyone who signs on for the trip gets a shiny, gold bounty hunter badge to wear on his or her leather jacket, and a satellite phone to call in air strikes. Of course, these untrained bikers may occasionally take out an innocent Afghan wedding party, but we do that now without their help.
Grand Prize for Osama is $25 million in unmarked bills, with lesser amounts for his staff. Any human head brought in that the CIA verifies as belonging to a former terrorist is worth a minimum of $5,000. These War Corps Members would be, after all, some of the baddest dudes on the planet. My guess is they could clean up the remnants in Afghanistan in less than a year, take down all the regional warlords who are just as repressive as were the Taliban, and we would have Bin Laden in a few months time. While the guys were gone overseas, the old USA would seem like a lot safer place to be, too. We might have a crisis when the first bunch came home, but I figure that a ticker tape parade down Broadway is a small price to pay. There could also be a problem if the one who brings in Osama's head demands to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but we can cross that bridge when we get there.
The last component of the War on Terror costs the public nothing and even results in a saving of taxpayer dollars. We offer early release from prison to all the convicted former CEOs and CFOs of large corporations, and to their attorneys, accountants, and Wall Street insiders, on condition they will agree to serve the Country by using their considerable talents to defraud and plunder the international terrorist organizations, and destroy the financial underpinnings of their networks. I can think of no quicker way to bring these murderous organizations of terrorists to their knees than turning loose these sharks on them to dry up their funds and pillage their treasuries. When al Qaida defaults on its payments to families of martyrs, and files for a Chapter 11 reorganization in district court, we will truly have won a great victory.
Did I mention that we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well? We simply take some of the forces that we pull out of Iraq, augment them with most of the troops now stationed in South Korea, and redeploy them to establish a DMZ along the pre-1967 War boundary line. We announce that since the warring parties have failed to agree on a settlement, and their conflict threatens the peace, security, and stability of the World, we have decided to impose a resolution unilaterally. It does not matter what solution we choose; anything would be better than the current bloody stalemate.
My personal candidate for the imposed resolution would be the plan worked out by informal representatives of Israel and Palestine in Geneva. That way both governments could disavow any responsibility for the settlement, and each could rail against the US for imposing it. They would hate us, of course, but a common enemy may be the last best hope for reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians. The rest of the United Nations would denounce the US for its blatant unilateralism, but would secretly breathe a sigh of relief that some great power had defused the Middle East tinderbox. In order to keep the troops busy while they are policing the DMZ, we could put them to work tearing down the wall, escorting the Jewish settlers back to Israel, and summarily executing anyone (in or out of uniform) who crossed the DMZ in either direction with explosives.
Since this discussion began with a thought about the millions of US Citizens that we have warehoused in the nation's prisons, it should end with a plan to reduce this crushing burden on the body politic. We will offer all non-violent offenders a crash course in how to take the SAT. An inmate who meets admission standards for any college or university will be offered a release program. The inmate must agree to pursue a course of study leading to a degree or certificate in the realm of community service. As long as she or he meets the school standards (academic and conduct) and refrains from any further criminal behavior, the inmate will remain free to engage in study and live the student life. Notice that this provision will also contribute to the goal of fostering diversity on college campuses since most of our incarcerated population consists of minorities.
Tuition, books, and a room and board allowance will be paid from the government funds that would otherwise have been used to incarcerate the individuals, leaving a balance to be returned to the federal treasury to reduce the National Debt. At the conclusion of the study program, and upon graduation, program participants will be required to return to the community of their last permanent residence, where they will perform community service and be paid a living wage for the balance of their sentence period or four years, whichever is greater.
In order to insure that institutions of higher learning accept these release program folks who are otherwise qualified for admission, schools that refuse to participate will be ineligible for other government funded programs (e.g. G.I. Bill students, NIH Research Grants). At the end of the community service period, we will return to society educated citizens with relevant work experience in a variety of the helping professions. Inmates convicted of non-violent offenses who do not meet the standards for college admission, will have available a similar release program based on trade or technical school certification.
In a nation at war, bold measures are called for. I think these might work.
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