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      Friday
      May282010

      Long Wars at Home and Abroad

      To the Long War against Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan must be added the globalized Long War against drugs and street gangs.  Without being declared national policy, counterinsurgency is beginning to define both foreign and domestic government approaches.

      A Long War is a permanent war over many decades against an enemy so demonized that political solutions are rendered unthinkable, off the table. Such a war is virtually permanent, greatly clandestine, beyond democratic accountability, and its enormous casualties and budgetary costs little discussed. (See www.longwarjournal.org)

      Welcome to the joining of domestic and foreign policy through a single national security apparatus, in which former issues seen as political and economic have been redefined as crime, drugs and terrorism.

      As the Cold War between the Soviets and our government ended, Donald Rumsfeld was declaring in 2005 that "drug traffickers, smugglers, hostage-takers, terrorists, violent gangs - these are the threats that are serious."[1] The official wars on drugs, crime and gangs, launched with Nixon's 1968 Crime Control and Safe Streets Act and his 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention Act, gained new momentum as these problems were defined expansively and funded as national security threats. By 1986 Reagan was calling illegal drugs a "national security threat"; Clinton declared a "drug emergency" by 1999. According to William LeoGrande of American University, With the Cold War over, financing another Latin American counterinsurgency would have been politically unpopular with Congress; financing a war on drugs was more palatable."[2]

      Today the war on drugs blends into the counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Colombia, the sources of most of the heroin and cocaine entering the United States. Mexico, where a border war has resulted in over 22,000 deaths in just three years, is a top American supplier as well. In an earlier generation, the Vietnam War hooked hundreds of thousands of American soldiers on heroin and other drugs.

      In the 1960s, pushed by the FBI with federal funding, police departments nationwide instituted anti-gang, anti-drug and anti-terror units, beginning with the LAPD's SWAT teams in the 1960s. Chiefs like Bill Bratton in New York, later the LAPD commander, introduced the label "domestic terrorism." The Central American wars of the 1970s-80s pushed hundreds of thousands of traumatized refugees to American streets, where cross-border street gangs arose, like the Mara Salvatrucha. Tens of billions would be spent on expanding the domestic war on drugs to Latin America, the latest initiatives being Plan Colombia in 1999 ($6 billion+ thus far) and the 2007 Merida Initiative ($1.6 billion). The North American Free Trade Agreement was to be "armored", in the phrase of US diplomat Thomas Shannon. The Mexican-US border was militarized year by year.

      Law and order (or "mano dura") politics proved effective across the borders, usually accompanied by market-based economic policies that cut into safety nets and opened the way for private capital investment. The latest example is the narrow triumph of Mexican president Felipe Calderon, an opponent of NAFTA and architect of Mexico's war on drug gangs. Calderon's team was advised by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, author of New York's crusade against gangs in the 1990s.

      The trend combining militarization and privatization was occurring not only in Latin America, but was pioneered in Los Angeles after the 1992 inner-city uprising, when private investment advocates were placed in charge of "Rebuild LA." The result: after promising $6 billion in private investment to create 74,000 jobs in five years, the operation folded quietly three years later. A decade after the uprising, official figures showed a net job loss of 50,000 in the zone where the uprising took place. While government social programs were privatized, public expenditures on LA police rose to over $2 billion per year, 30-40 percent of the city budget.

      [1]  Aldinger, Charles. "US, Central America Discuss Security Cooperation." Reuters, October 12, 2005.
      [2]  LeoGrande, William. "From the Red Menace to Radical Populism." World Policy Journal, Winter 2005/2006.

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