Jul 31, 2011

Mexico Blog Editorial: The Delusion of Power

Buried underneath last week's hysterical news about the continuing, politically manufactured "debt ceiling crisis," was an article from a non-U.S. press agency, the French Press Agency, entitled "US unveils sanctions against global organized crime," It detailed how President Obama had signed an executive order imposing financial and other sanctions on a group of foreign criminal organizations ranging from Russia, Japan and Italy to Mexico.

Buried even further within the article was mention that the executive order was part the White House's "new Strategy to Combat Transnational Crime." Going to the White House website, we found the full Strategy report, Its subtitle is, "Addressing Converging Threats to National Security."

In his introductory letter to the Strategy, President Obama says, "this strategy is organized around a single, unifying principle: to build, balance, and integrate the tools of American power to combat transnational organized crime and related threats to our national security..."

In supporting his role as spokesman for this "strategy," Attorney General Holder proclaimed that, " Today, with the release of this Transnational Organized Crime Strategy, we usher in a new era of national vigilance, global engagement, and close collaboration among – and beyond – our respective agencies and departments."

He went on to say, "Not only will this new strategy allow us to integrate our work more effectively, and to leverage limited resources more efficiently, it also will ensure that our agencies – and our government and law enforcement partners – have the tools and authorities necessary to protect the American people from some of today’s most urgent, and complex, threats."

The strategy document begins by defining - for the first time in government publications - what it means by Transnational Criminal Organization (with its government-speak acroynym, "TCO"):

"Transnational organized crime refers to those self-perpetuating associations of individuals who operate transnationally for the purpose of obtaining power, influence, monetary and/or commercial gains, wholly or in part by illegal means, while protecting their activities through a pattern of corruption and/or violence, or while protecting their illegal activities through a transnational organizational structure and the exploitation of transnational commerce or communication mechanisms."

The attempt to define these organizations goes on to say, "Transnational organized criminals act conspiratorially in their criminal activities and possess certain characteristics." These "may" include committing acts of violence and intimidation and attempting to corrupt governments and commerce.

Late in the list of characteristics -- but first in importance and logic -- is the acknowledgement that "they have economic gain as their primary goal, not only from patently illegal activities but also from investment in legitimate businesses."  We will leave to others a critique of the ambiguity of this "definition," which -- with government-speak slight of hand -- melds the terrorist goal of "obtaining power" with the cartel goal of making money.

The strategy then sets forth its goal and objectives: "The end-state we seek is to reduce transnational organized crime (TOC) from a national security threat to a manageable public safety problem in the United States and in strategic regions around the world."

Clearly, no thought has been given to any other framing of the issue of drug consumption as one of public health and education. Use and sale is defined as a crime and, now, as an urgent matter of "national security." The drug war becomes an ever bigger, international game of "cops and robbers."

The Strategy proposes to achieve it goal by pursuing five key policy objectives:
  1. Protect Americans and our partners from the harm, violence, and exploitation of transnational criminal networks. 
  2. Help partner countries strengthen governance and transparency, break the corruptive power of transnational criminal networks, and sever state-crime alliances. 
  3. Break the economic power of transnational criminal networks and protect strategic markets and the U.S. financial system from TOC penetration and abuse. 
  4. Defeat transnational criminal networks that pose the greatest threat to national security by targeting their infrastructures, depriving them of their enabling means, and preventing the criminal facilitation of terrorist activities. 
  5. Build international consensus, multilateral cooperation, and public-private partnerships to defeat transnational organized crime."
All of these goals and objectives focus on the use of power to "break" and "defeat"  the now ostensibly defined "transnational" enemy. These objectives are, themselves, worthy of thorough critical analysis.

The strategy goes on to outline how the U.S. - and the world - will reach these objectives by applying "American power." "New and innovative capabilities and tools" will be used. These include two particularly worrisome "tools":
  • A proposed legislative package (which) "will enhance the authorities available to investigate, interdict, and prosecute the activities of top transnational criminal networks." 
  • An interagency Threat Mitigation Working Group (which) "will identify those TOC networks that present a sufficiently high national security risk and will ensure the coordination of all elements of national power to combat them."  (AMB's emphasis) The National Security Council  and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (aka "drug czar") will lead this group. 
The legislative proposals are not detailed. We wonder if we are we looking at another Patriot Act. The "interagency" coordination appears to be a central part of the strategy, as the action items presented list groups from the Departments of Justice (FBI, ATF, DEA), Homeland Security (various border security initiatives), and Defense, as well as the (undefined) "intelligence community." The War on Drugs is married to the War on Terror.

The strategy then lists six arenas of action to attack these "TCOs":
  1. Start at Home: Taking Shared Responsibility for Transnational Organized Crime 
  2. Enhance Intelligence and Information Sharing.
  3. Protect the Financial System and Strategic Markets against Transnational Organized Crime
  4. Strengthen Interdiction, Investigations, and Prosecutions
  5. Disrupt Drug Trafficking and Its Facilitation of Other Transnational Threats
  6. Build International Capacity, Cooperation, and Partnership
The "taking shared responsibility" part echos the language of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama that acknowledges that U.S. drug demand fuels the illicit drug trade. It then repeats promises of more focus on reducing drug consumption. However, the National Drug Strategy budget, announced earlier this year, continues to give the vast majority of funds to enforcement of prohibition.

The "new strategy" then goes on to focus on ostensibly better coordinated intelligence gathering (the U.S. having such a great record on intelligence gathering in the past decade), stopping money laundering (again, there is such a stellar past record), and interdiction and prosecution (same-old same-old).

It is clear to us that the “new” strategy is only more of the same-old same-old “war on drugs,” even though the Obama administration says it is no longer fighting a war. And it makes clear the motivation for continuing this war, now re-labeled as a fight against “transnational criminal organizations,” the new government-speak for the drug cartels.

The president’s introductory letter states the motivation, “…this strategy is organized around a single, unifying principle: to build, balance, and integrate the tools of American power to combat transnational organized crime and related threats to our national security”

The War on Drugs – and this “new strategy” – is all about the delusion of power, the misguided, false belief that the issue of drug consumption, by making it a crime, can be conquered by the powers of the state.

Power will never resolve an issue of human desire and the search to satisfy it.

We urge you to read two earlier posts: 

For more on the linkages of the drug war to the newly-coined "transnational crime", see the Border Lines blog, ‘Illicit Globalization on the Border: Drug War and Transnational Crime

For an analysis of how criminalization of desire and the resulting, inevitable power struggle between "cops and robbers" can never succeed "beating" or "defeating" human nature, see  Lessons from Mexico's Drug Wars

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