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Chomsky Noam - 1 settembre 1989

(Z Magazine, 1 settembre 1989)

THE FIRST section of this series (May) was concerned with the political, economic, and cultural effects of the so-called Reagan revolution. The second (July) turned to the global system taking shape with the decline of the two superpowers and the erosion of the Cold War confrontation that had proven so useful for mobilizing the domestic population in support of intervention abroad and privilege at home. Since these remain core policy objectives, some new thinking is required. Further questions, which I will put aside until later, have to do with specific policies towards the Third World, now increasingly diverse, including an expanding Third World sector of "unimportant people" within the national borders.

"The Unsettling Specter of Peace"

IN THE CASE of Gorbachev's USSR, the inability to sustain the Cold War conflict is combined with apparent unwillingness; not so here, however. It is hardly surprising that Gorbachev's initiatives elicit such a tepid response, tinged with visible annoyance and thoughts as to how they can be exploited to Washington's advantage; or that Gorbachev's unilateral concessions and offers are so commonly interpreted and moves in a game of PR one-upmanship, in which our side unfortunately lacks the talent to compete. As discussed earlier, U.S. elites regard the easing of Cold War tensions as a mixed blessing: true, the decline of the Soviet deterrent weakens the constraints on the use of violence and other means of coercion in the traditional areas of intervention, but problems arise in controlling the allies and, crucially, the ever-threatening public at home.

The "Unsettling Specter of Peace" raises "knotty 'peace' questions, " the Wall Street Journal observes. Notably, it threatens the regular resort to the military Keynesian programs that have served as the major device of state economic management through the post-war years, ensuring a stable public subsidy to advanced sectors of industry, particularly in the unprofitable research and development phase, and a guaranteed market on which corporate planners can rely. The Journal quotes former Army chief of staff General Edward Meyer, who thinks that a more capital-intensive and high tech military will ensure "a big business out there for industry": robot tanks, unmanned aircraft, sophisticated electronics, all of dubious use for any defensive (or probably any) military purpose, but that is not the point. It is, however, a rather lame hope, how will the public be bludgeoned into paying the costs without plausible Red Menace on the horizon?

The problem is not new, though it is now arising in a more severe form than heretofore. "Peace scares" he aroused concern from the early days of the Cold War, in understandable reasons. Business circles have long taken for granted that the state must play a major role in maintaining the system of private profit. They may welcome talk about free enterprise and laissez-faire, hut only as weapon to prevent diversion of public resources from the needs of owners and managers. It has also been recognized that to likely alternative to the Pentagon system -domestically, a public gift to the corporate manager -is investment for special needs. While this option might be technically feasible by the abstract standards of the economist, it is unacceptable. Public involvement in production of useful goods would interfere with prerogatives of owners and managers and is therefore ruled out as a policy option; production waste (mainly military) is a different matter. Furthermore, investment directed to human needs would tend

to organ new constituencies, redistribute wealth, increase public involvement in the political system, and in various all ways undermine rule by business sectors with the state serving to protect and enhance their privilege ("democracy", in its conventional meaning). But unless driven by fear, the public will neither choose the path that best serve corporate interests nor support foreign adventures undertaken to subordinate the Third World to the same demands.

Problems of social control mount insofar as the state is limited in its capacity to coerce. It is, after all, hardly a law of nature that a few should command while the multitude obey, that the economy should be geared to ensure luxuries for some instead of necessities for all or that the fate - even the survival - of future generations be dismiss as irrelevant to planning. If ordinary folk are free to reflect on the causes of human misery (in Barrington Moore's phrase), they may well draw all the wrong conclusion Therefore, they must be indoctrinated or diverted, an essential task that requires unremitting efforts. The means are many; engendering fear of a threatening enemy is one classic device.

The Vietnam years awakened many minds. To counter the threat, it was necessary to restore the image of American benevolence and to rebuild the structure of fear. Both challenges were addressed with the dedication they demand.

The congressional human rights campaign, itself a reflection of the improvement in the moral and intellectual climate, was skillfully exploited for the former end. In the featured article of the latest Foreign Affairs annual review of the world, Robert Tucker comments, cynically but accurately, that since the mid-1970s "human rights have served to legitimate a part of the nation's post-Vietnam foreign policy and to give policy a sense of purpose that apparently has been needed to elicit public support". He adds "the simple truth that human rights is little more than a refurbished version of America's historic purpose of advancing the cause of freedom in the world"; illustrative examples readily come to mind, such as the elimination of the native populations, slavery and its aftermath, or the record of foreign intervention and conquest as in Vietnam, a noble effort "undertaken in defense of a free people resisting communist aggression" (Tucker). Such State Department handouts are all that one can expect about

Vietnam in respectable circles: the plain truth is far too threatening to be thinkable. But the comments on "America's historic purpose" - also conventional - do merit some notice. Comparable rhetoric would merely elicit ridicule outside of remnants of pre-Enlightenment fanaticism, such as Khomeini's Iran or disciplined Western intellectual circles.

In the Reagan years, a "yearning for democracy" was added to the battery of population control measures (to borrow some counterinsurgency jargon). As Tucker puts it, under the Reagan doctrine "the legitimacy of governments will no longer rest simply on their effectiveness, but on conformity with the democratic process", and "there is a right of intervention" against illegitimate governments, a goal too ambitious he feels, but otherwise unproblematic. The naive might ask why we failed to exercise this right of intervention in South Korea, Indonesia, South Africa, or El Salvador, among other candidates. There is no inconsistency, however. These countries are committed to the democratic process, as we see at once when we recall the operative meaning of the term "democracy": unchallenged rule by elite elements (business, oligarchy, military) that generally respect the interests of U.S. investors, with appropriate forms for occasional ratification by segments of the public. When these conditions are not satisfied

, intervention is legitimate to "restore democracy" by violence or - to adopt a current cliche - by ensuring a "level playing field", that is, social arrangements in which the proper outcome is guaranteed by the concentration of power and resources in the hands of elements congenial to U.S. interests. The term "level" is to be understood as meaning "vertical", with the obvious orientation.

To take a fashionable case, Nicaragua is a "totalitarian society" (Secretary of State James Baker) where we must intervene massively to establish a level playing field, so that elites responsive to U.S. interests can prevail as elsewhere in the region. Colombia, in contrast, is a democracy with a level playing field, since these elements rule with no political challenge.

In Colombia, the New York Times informs us, courageous people threatened by "violence from cocaine gangs" are struggling "to preserve democratic normalcy" and "to keep democratic institutions alive". The reference is not to peasants, union leaders, or advocates of social justice and human rights who face the violence of the military and the oligarchy using the cocaine gangs and their own forces for their shared ends. And crucially, democratic normalcy has not been threatened by the fact that the two parties to share political power are "two horses (with) the same owner" (former President Alfonso Lopez Michaelsen) - not exactly a circumstance unfamiliar to us. Nor does a problem arise from the fact that "democratic normalcy" is a system with such features as these: death squads have killed about 1.000 members of the one party not owned by oligarchy (Union Patriotica) since its founding in 1985, leaving the unions and popular organizations with no meaningful political representation; disappearance and executio

n of labor, Indian, and community leaders is a regular part of daily life while "many Colombians insist that army troop often act as though they were an occupation force in enemy territory" (Americas Watch); these death squads dedicated to extermination of "subversives" are in league with to security forces (Amnesty International); the death squad sow "an atmosphere of terror, uncertainty and despair", a "all families in which even one member is somehow involved in activities directed towards social justice" are under constant threat of disappearance and torture, conducted with "impunity" by the military and their allies (Pax Christi), including "cocaine gangs" and the owner of the two horses. All of this leaves the playing field level and posed no threat to "democratic institutions", no challenge "America's historic purpose".

Similarly, the growth of the drug cartels in Guatemala "has sparked sharp concern for the survival of the country nascent democracy", Lindsey Gruson warns in the New York Times (October 1). "Guatemala's emergence as major player in the international drug bazaar" - along with Honduras and Costa Rica, now "routinely" used for drug transhipment - "has sparked concern among United State diplomats that it will lead to a bitter Congressional debate over aid to this country, which is just emerging from international isolation after years of military rule".

But events a few days earlier, too insignificant to reach the Times, arouse no concern over the "nascent democracy" or threaten the flow of U.S. military and other aid. Wire services report that "terrified by a new wave of political violence, the family of an abducted human rights activist fled this county (on September 23) after spending nearly six weeks holed up in a room at the Red Cross". The deputy federal attorney general for human rights says "It is incredible how this family has been persecuted" because or the human rights activities of Maria Rumalda Camẹy, a member of the Mutual Support Group of relatives of the disappeared. She was kidnapped by armed men in August, the fourth person in her family to disappear in 10 months; "the others eventually turned up - all shot dead and dumped on roadsides". The family were evacuated by the Red Cross from the Mutual Support Group office in Guatemala City to which they had fled when a grenade was lobbed through the window, 30 minutes after their arrival. "In t

he last two months", the report continues, "there has been a surge of killings and bombings", with mutilated bodies left by roadsides as warnings; this "surge" is beyond the normal level of atrocities by security forces and their unofficial wings and associates. Thus, on September 15, the Guatemalan press reported 15 bodies bearing signs of torture found in one 24-hour period in one southwestern province: before the men were abducted they had been followed by an army vehicle from a nearby military base, according to a survivor. A few days later, the body of a student was found, the 7th of 12 recently "disappeared" in the classic style of the security forces of the U.S. client states. Other bodies were found with parts cut off and signs of torture. Thousands of peasants who returned from Mexico after promises of land and security are planning to flee to Mexican refugee camps as a result of the violence and the failure of the government to honour its promises, the local press reports.

But the targets are peasants, activists, organizers. Hence the "nascent democracy" suffers at most minor flaws, and is secure from international isolation or funding cutoff.

In such ways, the ideological institutions labored to reconstruct the image of benevolence; and among articulate elites at least, the success has been remarkable, as amply documented. To reconstruct fear, it was necessary to lament the triumphs of the Soviet enemy, marching from strength to strength, conquering the world, and building a huge military system to overwhelm us. The effort achieved a brief success, though by the mid-1980s it had to be abandoned as the costs of "defense" against these awesome threats became intolerable. We may therefore concede that "it is now clear that the gravity of developments in 1980 was exaggerated" (Robert Tucker): the threat to our existence posed by Soviet influence in South Yemen, Laos, and other such powerhouses was not quite so grave as had been thought by sober analysts. By 1983, the CIA conceded that from 1976, the rate of growth of Soviet defense spending dropped from 4-5 percent to 2 percent and the rate of growth of weapons procurement flattened, exactly contrary

to the claims advanced to justify the Carter program of rearmament that has implemented in essentials in the Reagan years. In a careful reanalysis of the data, economist Franklyn Holzman concludes that the ratio of Soviet military expenditures to GNP scarcely changed from 1970 and appears to be "considerably less" than U.S: expenditures (not to speak of the fact that U.S. NATO allies outspend Soviet Warsaw pact allies by more than 5 to 1, that 15-20 percent of Soviet expenditures are devoted to the China front, and that its allies are hardly reliable). "The Soviet military spending gap", he concludes, "like the 'bomber gap' of the 1950s and the 'missile gap' of the 1960s, turns out to be a myth".

The actual facts would continue to have little relevance, were it not for the problems of maintaining the traditional Pentagon-based method for securing state power and economic privilege.

The defection of Poland and Hungary should lessen the danger that Communist armies will sweep over Western Europe. The costs of assisting this defection are vastly lower than the expenses of the arms race or of intervention to "defend free people from Communist aggression". But unlike military expenses, the costs of aiding the defectors are beyond our capacity, George Bush and his colleagues explain; a paradox, perhaps a failure of vision and leader-ship (New Republic). The paradox vanishes when ideological blinders are removed.

From the early years of the Cold War, the real menace has been "Soviet political aggression" (Eisenhower), what Adlai Stevenson and others called "internal aggression".

Such concerns in the early postwar years led to world-wide campaign against the antifascist resistance, the attack on labor, and the restoration of the traditional order, including Nazi and fascist collaborators (see my article in Z, January). A powerful NATO military alliance, Eisenhower held, should "convey a feeling of confidence wich will make (its members) sturdier, politically, in their position to Communist inroads", that is, to "political aggression" from within by "Communists", a term understood broadly to include labor, radical democrats, and similar threats to "democracy". Citing these remarks in his history of nuclear weapons, McGeorge Bundy adds that Eisenhower "did not believe the Russians either wanted or planned any large-scale military aggression".

This understanding was common among rational planners, which is not to deny that they readily convinced themselves that Soviet hordes were on the march when such doctrines were useful for other ends. Typically, policy reflects perceived interests; beliefs are constructed to provide a justification on grounds that will be acceptable to oneself and others. Part of the concern over the fading of the Soviet threat is that it may release the bonds to protect the state capitalist societies from "internal aggression".

Population control has always required that external threats be presented in a manner that is "clearer than truth", in Dean Acheson's apt phrase. The prerequisite is a disciplined ideological system that will march on command and resolutely avoid the lessons of the past when the courst is altered or even reversed.

In the early Reagan years, the Soviet threat was manipulated for the twin goals of Third World intervention and entrenching the welfare state for the privileged, at the expense of the poor at home and abroad and future generations. Transmitting Washington's rhetoric, the media helped to create a brief period of public support for the arms buildup while constructing a useful myth of the immense popularity of the charismatic "great communicator" to justify the state-organized party for the rich.

Other devices were also used. Thanks to the government-media campaign, 60 percent of the public came to perceive Nicaragua as a "vital interest" of the United States by 1986, well above France, Brazil, India, and other insignificant comers of the world. By the mid-1980s, international terrorism, particularly in the Middle East, assumed center stage. To appreciate the brilliance of this propaganda feat, one must bear in mind that it was necessary to efface the fact that even in the peak years of concern, 1985-6, the U.S. and its Israeli ally were responsible for the most serious acts of international terrorism in this region, not speak of the leading role of the United States in international terrorism elsewhere in the world, and in earlier years. The worst single terrorist act in the region in 1985 was car-bombing in Beirut that killed 80 people and wounded 250. It was graphically described, but did not enter the canon, having been organized by the CIA. To cite another striking example, in 1987 it was reveal

ed that one of the many terrorist operations mounted against Cuba took place at a particularly tense moment of the missile crisis; a CIA dispatched terrorist team blew up a Cuban industrial facility with a reported death toll of 400 workers, an incident the might have set off a nuclear war. I found not a single reference in the media in the midst of the continuing fury over the "plague of international terrorism" spread by crazed Arabs backed by the KGB in the effort to undermine the West. Similarly, respected scholarly work keeps strictly to the official canon, much in the manner of a totalitarian state.

Such menaces as Nicaragua and international terrorists have the advantage that they are weak and defenseless. Unlike the Soviet enemy, Nicaragua, Grenada, Lebanon, and Libya can be attacked with impunity, eliciting much manly posturing and at least a few moments of rallying round the flag. In contrast, we can rail against the Soviet enemy, but no more. But for the same reason, the menace is difficult to sustain. To enhance credibility, the selected targets are regularly linked to the Evil Empire, evidence having its usual irrelevance. But these charges too are losing their force, and new monsters are badly needed to keep the population on course.

Enter the Medellin cartel.

The "Drug War"

To fit the part, a menace must be grave, or at least portrayable as such. Defense against the menace must engender a suitable martial spirit among the population, which must accord its rulers free rein to pursue policies motivated on other grounds and must tolerate the erosion of civil liberties, a side benefit of particular importance for the statist reactionaries currently masquerading as conservatives. Furthermore, since the purpose is to divert attention away from power and its operations - from federal offices, corporate board rooms, and the like - a menace for today should be remote: "the other", very different from "us" or at least what we are trained to aspire to be. The designated targets should also be weak enough to be attacked without cost; the wrong color helps. In short, the menace should be localized in the Third World, whether abroad or at home in the inner city. The war against the menace should be designed to be winnable, a precedent for future operations, though this is of secondary import

ance, since a disciplined ideological system can quickly eliminate unwanted history. A crucial requirement is that the media launch a properly structured propaganda campaign, never a problem.

This has been the pattern since the early Cold War days, illustrated, for example, in the major planning document NSC 68 of April 1950, which called for massive rearmament to counter the Kremlin design of world conquest, along with "sacrifice and discipline" in the interest of militarization of the economy, and efforts to overcome "vulnerability" of our society as "the excess of tolerance "dissent among us", and "the excesses of a permanent open mind" - programs that were implemented in ways that are familiar.

A war on drugs is a natural choice for the menace of the times. There is, first of all, no question about the seriousness of the problem; we return to the dimensions in next section. But to serve the purpose, the war must be narrowly bounded and shaped, focused on the proper targets and crucially avoiding the primary agents; that too readily accomplished. The war is also structured so that in retrospect, it will have achieved some of its goals.

One major objective of the Bush-Bennett strategy is a 10 per reduction over the next two years in reported drug (from the preceding month). The test is to be the Federal Household Survey on Drug Abuse, which, a few was before the plan was released, showed a decline of 37 cent from 1985 to 1988 (the Survey excludes prison mates and homeless, and the underclass is surely underrepresented, but none of this is relevant). The stated objective thus seems a rather safe bet.

As required, the war is aimed at "them", not "us". Seventy percent of the Bush-Bennett drug budget was for law enforcement; if the underclass cannot be cooped up in urban reservations and limited to preying on itself, then it can be imprisoned outright. The flashiest proposal was military aid to Colombia after the murder of president candidate Luis Carlos Galan. As his brother Alberto commented, "the drug dealers core military power lies in paramilitary groups they have organized with the support of large landowners and military officers", which explains "impunity that prevails" for the narcotraffickers and their allies, including the state terrorists themselves. Apart from strengthening "repressive and antidemocratic forces", Galan continued, Washington's strategy avoids "the core of the problem", that is, "the economic ties between the legal and illegal worlds", the "large financial corporations" that handle the drug money. "It would make more sense to attack and prosecute the few at the top of the drug b

usiness rather than fill prisons with thousands of small fish without the powerful financial structure that gives life to the drug market".

It would indeed make more sense, if the goal were a war on drugs. But it makes no sense for the goal of population control, and it is in any event unthinkable, because of the requirement that state policy protect power and privilege, a natural concomitant of the "level playing field" at home.

As Drug Czar under the Reagan administration. George Bush was instrumental in terminating the main thrust of the real "war on drugs". Jefferson Morley reports that officials in the enforcement section of the Treasury Department monitored the sharp increase in cash inflow to Florida (later Los Angeles) banks as the cocaine trade boomed in the 1970s, and "connected it to the large-scale laundering of drug receipts" (Treasury Department brief). They brought detailed information about these matters to the DEA and the Justice Department. After some public exposes, the government launched Operation Greenback in 1979 to prosecute money launderers. It soon foundered; the banking industry is not a proper target for the drug war. The Reagan administration reduced the limited monitoring, and Bush "wasn't really too interested in financial prosecution", the chief prosecutor in Operation Greenback recalls. The program was soon defunct, and Bush's new war on drugs is aimed at more acceptable targets. The priorities, Morle

y comments, are illustrated by the actions of new Drug Czar William Bennett. When an 8 billion surplus was announced for Miami and Los Angeles Banks, Bennett raised no questions about the morality of their practices and initiated no inquiries, though he did expedite eviction notices for low-income, mostly black residents of public housing in Washington where drug use had been reported.

There may also be some fine tuning. A small Panamanian bank was pressured into pleading guilty on a money laundering charge after a sting operation. But the U.S. government dropped criminal charges against its parent bank, one of Latin America's major financial institutions, based in one of the centers of the Colombian drug cartel. There also appear to have been no efforts to pursue the allegations by cartel figures about their contacts with major U.S. banks.

The media rallied to the narrowly-conceive drug war with their usual efficiency and dispatch. As in earlier campaigns, the President's decision to send military aid to Colombia and the September 5 declaration of war on "the toughest domestic challenge we've faced in decades" set off a major media blitz, closely tailored to White House needs, though the absurdities of the program were so manifest that there was some defection at the margins. Several (unscientific) samples of wire service reports through September showed drug-related stories surpassing Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East combined. Media obedience reached such comical proportions as to elicit sarcastic commentary in the Wall Street Journal, where Hodding Carter observed that that President proceeded on the basis of "one lead-pipe cinch": that to media would march in step. "The mass media in America," he went on, "have an overwhelming tendency to jump up and down and bark in concert whenever the White House - any White House - snap

s its fingers".

The short-term impact was impressive. Shortly after the November 1988 elections, 34 percent of the public selected the budget deficit as "George Bush's No. I priority once he takes office", this is "an unusually high rate of agreements in an open-ended question", AP noted, three percent selected drugs as top priority, down from previous month. In late September 1989, "a remarkable 43 percent say the drugs are the nation's single most important issue", the Wall Street Journal reports, with the budget deficit a distant second at 6 percent. In a June 1987 poll of registered voters in New York, taxes were selected as the number 1 issue facing the state (15 percent), with drugs far down the list (5 percent). A repeat in September 1989 gave dramatically different results: taxes were selected by 8 percent while the drug problem ranked far above any other, at a phenomenal 46 percent. The real world has hardly changed; its image has, as transmitted through the ideological institution reflecting the current needs of p


The selectivity of the propaganda campaign is also reflected in the polls, which show strong support for use of force (troops in Colombia, tougher law enforcement and sentencing) as compared with education. The focus of popular concern was on the officially-designated criminals: drug pushers, etc., not bank executives and other primary but untouchable figures. But that fact tells us little, since the questions kept to these bounds.

As noted, a martial tone and an attack on civil liberties have broader benefits for those who advocate state violence to secure privilege. The government-media campaign helped create the required atmosphere among the general public and Congress. In a typical rhetorical flourish, Senator Mark Hatfield, often a critic of reliance on force, said that in every congressional district "the troops are out there. All they're waiting for is the orders, a plan of attack, and they're ready to march". The bill approved by Congress widens the application of the death penalty, limits appeals by prisoners, and allows police broader latitude in obtaining evidence, among other measures.

In short, all proceeded on course.

The Contours of the Crisis

A closer look at the drug crisis is illuminating. As noted, there can be no doubt the problem is serious "Substance abuse", to use the technical term, takes a terrible toll. The grim facts are reviewed by Ethan Nadelmann in Science magazine. Deaths attributable to consumption of tobacco are estimated at over 300,000 a year, while alcohol use adds an additional 50,000 to 200,000 annual deaths. Among 15- to 24-year olds, alcohol is the leading cause of death, also serving as a "gateway" drug that leads to use others, according to the National Council on Alcoholism. In addition, a few thousand die from use of illegal drug 3,562 in 1985, from all illegal drugs combined. According to these estimates, over 99 percent of deaths from substance abuse are attributable to tobacco and alcohol.

Illegal drugs are far from uniform in their effects. Thus, "among the roughly 60 million Americans who have smoked marijuana, not one has died from a marijuana overdose". Nadelmann reports. As he and many others have observed, federal interdiction efforts have helped to shift drug use from relatively harmless marijuana to far more dangerous drugs.

There are also enormous health costs, again, primarily from alcohol and tobacco use: "The health costs of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin combined amount to only a small fraction of those caused by either of the two licit substances", Nadelmann continues. Also to be considered is the distribution of victims. Illicit drugs affect the user, but their legal cousins seriously affect others, including passive smokers and victims of drunken driving and alcohol-induced violence; "no illicit drug...is as strongly associated with violent behaviour as is alcohol", Nadelmann observes, and alcohol abuse is a factor in some 40 percent of roughly 50,000 annual traffic deaths.

Further human and social costs include the victims of drug-related crimes and the enormous growth of organized crime, which is believed to derive more than half of its revenues from the drug trade. In this case, the costs are associated with the illicit drugs, but because they are illicit, not because they are drugs. As is again a commonplace, the same was true of alcohol during the prohibition era. We are dealing here with questions of social policy, which is subject to decision and choice. Nadelmann advocates legalization and regulation. Similar proposals have been advanced by a wide range of conservative opinion (the London Economist, Milton Friedman, etc.) and by some others.

Responding to Friedman, William Bennett argues that after repeal of prohibition, alcohol use soared. Hence legalization is too unrealistic a proposal to consider seriously. Whatever the merits of the argument, it is clear that Bennett doesn't take it seriously, since he does not propose reinstituting prohibition or banning tobacco - or even assault rifles. His own argument is simply that "drug use is wrong" and therefore must be punished. The implicit assumption is that use of tobacco, alcohol, or assault rifles is not "wrong", on grounds that remain unspoken, and that the state must punish what is "wrong": deceit, for example. Radical statists of the Bennett variety like to portray themselves as humanists taking a moral stance, insisting on the difference between "right and wrong". Transparently, it is sheer fraud.

Social policies implemented in Washington contribute to the toll of victims in other ways, a fact illustrated dramatically just as the vast media campaign orchestrated by the White House peaked in mid-September. On September 19, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) panel held a hearing in Washington to consider a tobacco industry request that the U.S. impose sanctions on Thailand if it does not agree to drop restrictions on import of U.S. tobacco. Such U.S. government actions had already rammed tobacco down the throats of consumers in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, with human costs of the kind already sketched.

This massive narcotrafficking operation has its critics. A statement of the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and American Lung Association condemned the cigarette advertising in "countries that have ready succumbed to the USTR crowbar of trade threats", a campaign "patently designed to increase smoking by...young Asian men and women who see young U.S. and women as role models". U.S. Surgeon General Everett Koop testified at the USTR panel that "when we are pleading with foreign governments to stop the flow of cocaine, it is the height of hypocrisy for the United States to export tobacco". Denouncing the trade policy "to push addicting substances into foreign markets" regardless of health hazards, he said that "Years from now, our nation will back on this application of free trade policy and find it scandalous, as the rest of the world does now". Koop told reporters that he had not cleared his testimony with the White House because it would not have been approved, and said he also opposed

actions under the Reagan administration to force Asian countries to import U.S. tobacco. During his eight years in office, ending a few days after his testimony, Koop backed reports branding tobacco a lethal addictive drug responsible for some 300,000 deaths a year.

Thai witnesses also protested, predicting that the consequence would be to reverse a decline in smoking achieved by a 15-year campaign against tobacco use. They also noted that U.S. narcotrafficking would interfere with Washington's efforts to induce Asian governments to halt the flow of illegal drugs.

Critics invoked the analogy of the Opium War 150 years ago, when the British government forced China to open its doors to opium from British India, sanctimoniously pleading the virtues of free trade as they forced large-scale drug addiction on China. As in the case of the U.S. today, Britain had little that it could sell in China, apart from drugs. The U.S. sought for itself whatever privileges the British were extracting from China by violence, also extolling free trade and even the "great design of Providence to make the wickedness of men subserve his purposes of mercy toward China, in breaking through her wall of exclusion, and bringing the empire into more immediate contact with western and christian nations" (American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions). Lecturing in Boston, John Quincy Adams denounced the refusal of China to accept British opium as a violation of the Christian principle of "love thy neighbor" and "an enormous outrage upon the rights of human nature, and upon the first principl

es of the rights of nations". The tobacco industry and its protectors in government invoke similar arguments today as they seek to relive this triumph of western civilization and its "historic purpose".

Here we have the biggest drug story of the day, breaking right at the peak moment of the government-media campaign: the U.S. government is perhaps the world's leading narcotrafficker, even if we put aside the U.S. role in establishing the hard drug racket after World War II and maintaining it since, first, as part of the campaign to break the labor movement in Europe in the early postwar years, later in connection with counterinsurgency operations from Asia to Central America, including the George Bush-contra era. How did this major story fare in the media blitz? It seems to have passed with little comment.

Serious concern over the drug crisis would quickly lead to inquiry into a much wider range of government policies. U.S. farmers can be encouraged to produce crops other than tobacco, but Latin American peasants, with far fewer options, turned to cocaine production for survival as prices of traditional exports declined. Furthermore, U.S. pressures over the years - including the "Food for Peace" program - have undermined production of crops for domestic use, which cannot compete with subsidized U.S. farm products. U.S. policy is to encourage Latin America to produce instead specialized crops for export: flowers, vegetables for yuppie markets - or coca leaves. by far the optimal choice on grounds of capitalist rationality. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs comments that "only economic growth in Latin America, the promotion of financing of alternate legal crops and a decrease in U.S. demand will provide a viable alternative" to cocaine production. But such developments require changes in deeply rooted social po


As for U.S. demand for illegal drugs, middle class use is already decreasing. But the inner city is a different matter. Here again, if we are serious, we will turn to deep-seated social policy. The cocaine boom correlates with major social and economic processes, including a historically unprecedented decline in real wages from 1973; an effective attack against labor to restore corporate profits in a period of decline of U.S. global dominance; a shift in employment either to highly skilled labor or to service jobs, many of them dead-end and low-playing; and other moves towards a two-tired society with a large and growing underclass mired in hopelessness and despair. Illegal drugs offer profits to ghetto entrepeneurs while alternative options decline, and to others, temporary relief from an intolerable existence. These crucial factors are obvious enough to receive some notice in the mainstream. Thus, a specialist quoted in the Wall Street Journal comments that "what is new is large numbers of inner-city peopl

e - blacks and Hispanics - sufficiently disillusioned, a real level of hopelessness. Most northern European countries have nothing remotely comparable".

With its contributions to the growth and punishment of the underclass, the Reagan-Bush administration helped create the current drug crisis, another fact that merits headlines. And the current "war" may well exacerbate the crisis. Meeting with congressional leaders, Bush outlined his proposals for paying the costs of the drug plan, including elimination of almost 100 million from public housing subsidies and a juvenile justice program. The National Center on Budget priorities estimated that the Bush program would remove $400 million from social programs. The misery of the underclass is likely to increase, along with the demand for drugs and the construction of prisons for the superfluous population.

The Colombian operation illustrates other facets of the Drug War. The military aid program for Colombia finances murderous and repressive elements with ties to the drug business and landowners. As commonly in the past, the current U.S. drug programs are likely to contribute to counterinsurgency operations and destruction of popular organizations that might challenge elite conceptions of "democracy".

These connections sometimes reach a remarkable level of cynicism. Thus, Colombia requested that the U.S. install a radar system near its southern border to monitor flights from itsneighbours to the south, which provide the bulk of the cocaine for processing by Colombian drug merchants. The U.S. responded by installing a radar system, but as far removed from drug flights to Colombia as is possible on Colombian territory: on San Andres Island in the Caribbean, 500 miles from mainland Colombia and remote from the drug routes, but only 200 miles off the coast of Nicaragua. The Colombian government accused the Pentagon of using the fight against drugs as a ruse to monitor Nicaragua, a charge confirmed by Senator John Kerry's foreign affairs aide, Richard McCall. He notes also that "Costa Rica requested radar assistance against small flights moving cocaine through the country and was given a proposal" by the Pentagon. Lacking technical experts, Costa Rica officials asked for an evaluation from the British Embassy,

which informed them that the U.S. proposal had no relevance to the drug traffic but was designed to monitor Nicaragua. In its report on the drug cartel, Kerry's Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations had reported that foreign policy concerns, including the war against Nicaragua, "interfered with the U.S.'s ability to fight the war on drugs", delaying, halting and hampering law enforcement efforts to keep narcotics out of the United States - a polite way of saying that the Reagan administration was facilitating the drug trade in pursuit of its international terrorist project in Nicaragua and other imperatives, a standard feature of policy for decades. The current drug war adds another chapter to the sordid story.

Somehow, all of this too escapes the front pages and prime time TV. In general, the central features of the drug crisis receive scant notice in the media campaign. The Newspaper of Record has been particularly scrupulous in evading them. It is doubtful that they reach more than a fraction of 1 percent of media coverage, which is tailored to other needs.

The counterinsurgency connection is surely what lies behind the training of Colombian narcotraffickers by Western military officers, which received some notice in August 1989 when, a few days after the Galan assassination, retired Israeli and British officers were found to be training Colombian cocaine traffickers, including teams of assassins for the drug cartel and their right-wing allies. A year earlier, a July 1988 Colombian intelligence report (Department of Security Administration, DAS) entitled "Organization of Hired Assassins and Drug Traffickers in the Magdalena Medio" noted that "At the training camps, the presence of Israeli, German and North American instructors has been detected". Trainees at the camp, who are supported by cattle ranchers and farmers involved in coca production and by the Medellin Cartel "apparently participated in peasant massacres" in a banana region, the report continues. After the discovery of British and Israeli trainers a year later, the Washington Post, citing another DAS

document, reported that "the men taught in the training centers (where British and Israeli nationals were identified) are believed responsible for massacres in rural villages and assassination of left-leaning politicians". The same document states that one Israeli-run course was abbreviated when the Israeli instructors left "to Honduras and Costa Rica to give training to the Nicaraguan contras". The allegation that U.S. instructors were also present has not been pursued, or reported in the press to my knowledge.

Israel claimed that Col. Yair Klein and his associates in the Spearhead security operation, who were identified as trainers in an NBC film clip, were acting on their own. But Andrew Cockburn points out that in a PBS "Frontline" documentary that he and Leslie Cockburn produced, Klein's company insisted that they always worked "with the complete approval and authorization of our Ministry of Defense". They also trained contras in Honduras and Guatemalan officers; one associate of Klein's, an Israeli Colonel, claims that they trained every Guatemalan officer above the rank of captain, wording on a contract arranged by the state-owned Israel Military Industries. "The Americans have the problem of public opinion, international image", the marketing director of Spearhead explained. "We don't have this problem". Therefore, the dirty work of training assassins and mass murderers can be farmed out to our Israeli mercenaries.

The Israeli press reports that Col Klein and his associates used a network of ultra-orthodox American Jews to launder the money they received for their services in Colombia. It reports further that Klein currently holds a military position of high responsibility and sensitivity as Commander of the War Room of the Israeli General Staff. An Israeli reserve general reported to be involved in the Israel-Colombia affair attributed the flurry of publicity to U.S. government revenge for the Pollard spy caper and "an American trick contrived in order to remove Israel Colombia", so that the U.S. can run the arms supply without interference.

Jerusalem Post columnist Menachem Shalev raised the question: "Why the moral outrage" over this affair? "Is it worse to train loyal troops of drug barons than it is to teach racist killers of Indians, Blacks, Communists, democrats, et cetera?". A good question. The answer lies in the U.S. propaganda system. Current orders are to express moral outrage over the Colombian cartel, the latest menace to our survival. But Israel's role as a U.S. mercenary state legitimate, part of the service as a "strategic asset" the accords it the status of "the symbol of human decency New York Times editorials.

The Best-laid Plans...

When the Bush plan was announced, the ACLU at once branded it a "hoax" a strategy that is "not simply unworkable" but "counterproductive and cynical". If the rhetorical ends were the real ones, that would be true enough. But for the objective of population control and pursuit of traditional policy goals, the strategy has considerable logic, though its immediate successes are unlikely to persist.

Part of the difficulty is that even the most efficient propaganda system is unable to maintain the proper attitudes among the population for long. The currently available devices have none of the lasting impact of appeal to the Soviet threat. Another reason is that fundamental social and economic problems cannot be swept under the rug forever. The temporarily convenient program of punishing the underclass carries serious potential costs for interests that really count. Some corporate circles are awakening to the fact that "a third world within our own country" will harm business interests (Brad Butler, former chairman of Procter Gamble). According to Labor Department projections, over half the new jobs created between 1986 and the year 2000 are to be filled by children of minorities, who are expected to constitute one-third of the work force before too long. These jobs require skills that will not be attained in the streets and prisons and deteriorating schools, including computer literacy and other technic

al knowledge.

As in South Africa, business will sooner or later come to realize that its interests cannot be served under Apartheid, whether legal or de facto. But a reversal of long-standing policies that reached the level of serious social pathology during the Reagan-Bush years will be no simple matter.

Those with a different agenda, and different values, will face new problems and new opportunities in pursuing their very different tasks in the years ahead.

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