Bush has new ideas for War on Drugs

by Alice Gomstyn | 5/23/01 5:00am

Its casualties are innumerable. Its costs are immeasurable. Its end is nowhere in sight. And yet, surrender remains an unimaginable option. President after president has pledged to continue America's "War on Drugs," and the executive currently occupying the White House is no exception.

During his nearly four months in office, President George W. Bush has taken several steps in order to abate the nation's drug problem. Among the first was his proposal to increase government funding for "faith-based" organizations -- which include drug treatment programs among their services. Bush also announced the creation of a new government agency charged with the distribution of federal moneys to such organizations.

The faith-based initiative raised questions about the separation of church and state and also sparked criticism from those who questioned the effectiveness of the drug treatment programs sponsored by faith-based organizations.

"I'm weary of faith-based initiatives in terms of discrimination [and] I believe that the predominant role of treating drug abuse should fall to the public sector," Assistant Professor of Government James Shoch said.

Shoch disagreed with the argument -- made by the advocates of Bush's policy toward faith-based organizations -- that such groups are more effective in rehabilitating drug abusers, citing studies that show religious organizations have no greater success in treating drug addiction than do non-profit and government-run organizations.

Some say that Bush's emphasis on drug treatment earlier on his presidency now seems incongruous with his recent nominations of John P. Walters and Congressman Asa Hutchinson (R, AK) to head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Drug Enforcement Administration, respectively.

Both Walters, the ONDCP's former deputy director for supply reduction under President George H.W. Bush, and Hutchinson are conservatives known for favoring harsher penalties for drug offenders over drug treatment programs.

Despite the ideological positions of Bush's appointees, the administration has nevertheless proposed a six percent increase for federal treatment programs budget and a 16 percent increase for addiction research in this year's budget.

Still, most of the U.S.'s anti-narcotics budget remains devoted to drug interdiction, at home as well as abroad. One step that Bush has taken on the international front is to attempt to strengthen relations between the United States and Mexico, a major source of thousands of kilograms of illicit drugs smuggled into U.S. each year.

Bush met with newly-elected Mexican President Vincente Fox in February. Fox has been an outspoken critic of the United States' annual certification process, in which the government publicly discloses a list of countries that it finds have been helpful in stopping international drug trafficking. Those failing to achieve certification may face economic penalties. Fox contends that the entire process is a "sham" and objects to the fact that his own and other nations are subject to performance assessments by the United States.

In an effort to appease Fox, Bush -- in addition to praising Mexico's counter-narcotics policy -- said he would endorse a move by Congress to set aside the certification process. Lawmakers, however, were unable to meet the March 1 deadline and the certification proceeded as scheduled.

While Mexico, along with 19 other nations, obtained certification, four countries -- Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti and Myanmar -- failed to make the list.

In a more proactive step, the Bush administration recently proposed a new program that would refocus U.S. anti-drug spending in Latin America.

Bush's plan comes after criticism levied against the previous administration for basing a large part of its anti-narcotic policy on Plan Colombia -- a 1.3 billion dollar program geared toward assisting the Colombian military in battling drug growers and traffickers. Critics voiced concerns that the program could potentially embroil the U.S. in pro-longed military conflict within the turbulent South American country.

Under Bush's proposal, a total of $882 million in aid would be directed toward economic development and the cultivation of legal crops in seven countries. Despite the new program, however, Plan Columbia would continue to remain in effect.

The potential success of international programs notwithstanding, some say that the nation's drug problem is still best addressed within its borders rather than outside of them.

"You're better off spending money on treatment programs [within the country itself]," Government Professor Steven Brooks explained. "If these work, then you might not need to do as much interdiction [abroad.]"