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Drug Warrior Gen. Kelly Is Not Just Fading Away

U.S. Marine Gen. John Kelly

U.S. Marine Gen. John Kelly is retiring from the military, but he isn’t just fading away. He is speaking out on the drug war, which he has been waging in Latin America in his capacity as head of the U.S. Southern Command.

Kelly is telling the news media (see here and here) that the problem with the drug war is that some states are legalizing marijuana, which, he says, makes it more difficult for the military to win the war on drugs. He says the legalization reflects “hypocrisy” because while the U.S. harps on Latin American regimes to crack down in the war on drugs, the Latin Americans respond, “As we look north, the real problem is the demand. So why don’t you do more to stop the demand for drugs…. Why would we do more when you seem to be legalizing this stuff?”

While we are on the subject of hypocrisy, let’s talk a little bit about the hypocrisy of using the U.S. military to wage the war on drugs in Latin America.

Here in the United States, the American people have made it illegal for the military to participate in the war on drugs. Americans have long considered it a really bad idea to have the military engaged in law enforcement. That’s because the military mindset is totally different from the law enforcement mindset. Soldiers think of terms of killing the enemy and winning wars, for example, while policemen think of terms of arresting suspected criminals and bringing them to justice.

Given that Americans consider it a bad idea to have the military engage in drug law enforcement here in the United States, why has the U.S. military been long involved in the drug war in Latin America? Why subject the Latin Americans to U.S. military law enforcement when Americans won’t subject themselves to military law enforcement?

How’s that for a bit of hypocrisy?

With his lament, Kelly implies that if states weren’t legalizing marijuana, his military drug warriors would have an easier time winning the war on drugs.

But wait a minute! The drug war has been going on for decades and the states that have legalized marijuana have done so only in the past few years. So, why didn’t the military win the drug war in the decades before marijuana was legalized? Could it be that Kelly might just be looking for an excuse to justify his failure to win the war on drugs during his period of command?

Kelly says that regardless of whether people agree or disagree with the military’s presence in Latin America, Americans should nonetheless be proud of what the soldiers have done down there.

Really? In Mexico alone, there have been some 70,000 people killed within the last six years. That’s not because of drugs. That’s because of the drug war — the drug war that Kelly and the U.S. military have been waging in Latin America for decades with ever-increasing ferocity.

What Kelly obviously does not understand (I think) is that it is the drug war itself — the war that the U.S. national-security establishment has been waging for decades — that is the root cause of all those drug-war deaths and all the rest of the drug-war violence that now characterizes Latin America.

In suggesting that the problem is with “demand,” Kelly is implicitly blasting the American people — specifically those people who choose to consume drugs. My hunch is that if it were up to him, the military would be targeting American drug users, conducting military raids on people’s homes, busting down their doors, looking for drugs and sending drug-war enemy combatants into places comparable to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

In fact, as it turns out , Kelly also oversaw the national-security establishment’s infamous prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That’s the place where people who are suspected of terrorism are brought to face criminal charges and are tortured and incarcerated for life without being accorded even a kangaroo trial.

My hunch is that if he had his druthers, Kelly would treat drug-law offenders, including those on the “demand” side of the equation, the same way the U.S. military treats terrorism-law offenders. After all, in the military mindset, war is war and there is never any substitute for victory. All that is necessary, as far as the military is concerned, is that the civilians release any constraints on the military and let them do whatever is necessary to win the war. Isn’t that why they say they lost their war in Vietnam — because the civilian authorities supposedly “tied their hands”?

Kelly also served in the invasion of Iraq. Americans will recall that that was the war that was waged against a country that had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. It was a pure war of aggression, a type of war that was declared illegal at Nuremberg. It was also a war that was illegal under our form of government, given that the president and the military never secured a congressional declaration of war from Congress, as the Constitution requires. That invasion, of course, was followed by more than a decade-long occupation in which countless Iraqis were killed or maimed, none of whom had ever attacked the united States or even threatened to do so.

The fact is that that neither the U.S. military nor the CIA has any more business waging the war on drugs, either in the United States or Latin America, than it did invading and occupying Iraq. The U.S. national security establishment is as responsible for the death, chaos, and mayhem that the drug war has wrought in Latin America as it is for the death, chaos, and mayhem that the invasion and occupation of Iraq have wrought in the Middle East.

That’s something to be proud of? In my opinion, that’s something that Kelly and the rest of the national-security state should be apologizing for.

Kelly is flat-out wrong. The problem with the drug war is not with “demand” or with “supply.” The problem with the drug war is the drug war itself. The only solution to a bad government program is to end it, just as our ancestors brought an end to Prohibition. If the drug war is ended, the drug lords and drug gangs will be immediately put out of business. That would mean no more need for the U.S. military and the CIA to wage the war on drugs in Latin America or anywhere else. I wonder if Gen. Kelly and the rest of the U.S. national-security establishment would consider that a win.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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