With all the swirling controversy about the University of Notre Dame and the interview with and apology from Archbishop Burke, it has been difficult to focus on anything else.

But, going from the ridiculous to, well, not really the sublime, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said something very important, very true and, just so, very courageous during her visit to Mexico. Long-time readers of this column will know that I am no fan of Mrs. Clinton but let’s give credit where credit is due.

Mexico is fighting a monumental battle against drug lords. Americans are generally nervous about the violence coming across the border but very few public officials have been willing to confront America’s role in bringing that violence about in the first place. The President has acknowledged that we need to do a better job keeping guns and ammunition from crossing the border southwards. But, it was Clinton who hit the nail on the head.

"Our (Americans’) insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," she admitted. "Clearly what we’ve been doing has not worked." This is abundantly true. Even if we could hunt down every drug lord, their places would be taken within minutes by new criminals, eager to make the millions of tax-free profits the drug trade produces. Contraband has always been a profitable business and someone will always be willing to take the risks it entails.

Even if we could close off our southern border, which we can’t, the drugs would find new ways of entering the country. When the U.S. government set up a task force in Miami to stop the flow of drugs coming through the Caribbean, the drug trade moved to Mexico. If we could close the border, it would move to Canada or back to the Caribbean or switch to drugs that can be manufactured right her at home. Fighting smugglers is a violent game of whack-a-mole.

The key is to cut off demand but Americans remain unwilling to really face their national drug habit. You can go to many neighborhoods here in DC and see drugs being sold on the street corner. You can go to any dance club and find a room full of successful doctors and lawyers and government officials, all of them drugged up on crystal meth from Canada or cocaine from Mexico, drugs that will be out of their systems by Monday morning when they might face a random drug test. They will tell you that their "casual drug use" does not hurt anyone else, that it is not like the dugs in the ghetto where there is violence or where the drug is given to young people. They are lying. Their "casual drug use" is, in fact, de-stabilizing the entire system of justice in Mexico, costing hundreds of lives, including the life of a U.S. Marshall whose body was found executed in Mexico two days ago.

Secretary of State Clinton deserves credit for speaking the truth while visiting Mexico. Let’s hope her words will follow her back to Washington and we can finally adopt drug policies that work. We need more treatment centers. We need to crack down on clubs where drugs are present and being sold. We need to bring some measure of hope to the urban ghettoes where drugs are destroying whole neighborhoods. We need to stop blaming Mexico and Colombia for our drug habit. Hats off to Clinton but her words have thrown down the gauntlet for the rest of the government and for the culture. We Americans have to stop our addiction before we can expect Mexico to stop the violence that accompanies it.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 3/27/2009 - 11:46pm
Mrs Clinton is receiving tonight The Margaret Sanger award the highest award of Planned Parenthood in Houston. Sanger's was one of the most influential eugenicists of her day in the United States. Amongst other eugenicists positions, Sanger advocated segregating millions of the "unfit" on farms set aside for that purpose, where they would not be permitted to reproduce. As she wrote "With the future citizen safeguarded from hereditary taints, with five million mental and moral degenerates segregated, with ten million women and ten million children receiving adequate care, we could then turn our attention to the basic needs for international peace."
Anonymous | 3/27/2009 - 7:48pm
Great to see American Catholics worrying about something distinct from their "pro-life" obsession.
Anonymous | 3/27/2009 - 3:05pm
Is this not an echo of Mrs. Reagan's efforts in her program: "Just say no".
Anonymous | 3/27/2009 - 9:47am
Mr. Winters: On this issue history is very important. Please note that Secretary of State Clinton's statement rearticulates the operative American policy since the first George Bush administration. In February 1992 the presidents of the Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and the United States (with Ecuador and Venezuela as observers) met in San Antonio, Texas, and declared the concept of co-responsibility for the drug problem. This became known as the San Antonio Declaration. It recognized that producing countries and consuming countries shared responsibility for finding a solution to the problem. This helped all parties get away from the blame game and get to serious work. Drugs have are devastating Mexico and Central America. Accordingly, the United States is providing support to Mexico and Central American countries via the Merida Initiative to improve their capabilities, as we have been for Colombia, Ecuador,and Peru, and Bolivia to deal with the problem. Venezuela, a big conduit for cocaine shipments, refuses to cooperate. The Secretary's comments are also very welcome because of Mexico's sensitivity about American power.
Anonymous | 3/27/2009 - 4:30pm
The Secretary of State's comments are an opening to a real dialogue about the demand for illegal drugs in the United States. Notwithstanding the San Antonio Declaration mentioned above, when was the last time you heard of individuals other than celebrities being arrested or shamed for drug use? Consumption of marijuana seems to be a semi-invisible but entrenched part of American life, with other drugs like cocaine or crystal meth being part of the milieu of specific social groups. Not being old enough to remember Prohibition, it seems to me that the violence and corruption we're seeing in Latin America, and to some degree, in the U.S., is a similar byproduct of the market's response to serve this underground demand. As a member of a family that has been wracked by alcoholism, it pains me to suggest that we either need to make these drugs legal or shameful. If they're legal, the commerce can be taxed and regulated, and over time the criminal element will subside, as it did with the bootleggers, but consumption, social acceptance, and individual addiction will inevitably rise, as it has with legalized gambling. If we make drugs shameful again, we'll need massive renewed enforcement efforts and leadership from the President on down. Individual drug users will have to be fined, jailed, or barred from their professions in sufficient numbers to deter new users. I don't particularly like either option, but worst of all would be to continue policies that deny the demand that fuels the market. We are truly beggaring our neighbors until we make this painful choice. In terms of the most practical and most-likely-to-succeed policy from where we are now, I'd probably choose full legalization of marijuana for people over 18, with limited legalization of the other drugs to reduce the opportunities for criminals.