Once or twice each year, conservative syndicated columnist and TV pundit Robert Novak publishes a piece about Colombia. These are written with very heavy input from House Republican congressional staffers who, over the years, have played a leading role in making U.S. policy toward Colombia what it is today.
Hence the headline of Novakâ€™s latest missive, which appeared in the Washington Post and elsewhere: â€œDems balk at support for Colombiaâ€™s drug war.â€ Novak filed the column from Colombia, where he is paying a visit this week to vacationing President Ãlvaro Uribe at his ranch in rural CÃ³rdoba department (a zone so dominated by right-wing paramilitaries that it is practically an independent republic).
Recall that the Republicans are facing the possibility of losing control of the House of Representatives in Novemberâ€™s elections. It shouldnâ€™t surprise us, then, that Novak and others are reverting to the tired old tactic of tarring as â€œsoft on drugsâ€ everyone who opposes the present U.S. strategy in Colombia â€“ in this case, congressional Democrats.
|Novak’s column came with this illustration in Rep. McGovern’s hometown Boston Herald.|
But Novakâ€™s latest column goes still further. Those who would cut funding from aerial herbicide fumigation, he argues, are delivering a slap in the face to hundreds of brave Colombian policemen risking their lives to stop cocaine and heroin from coming to the United States.
He cites the debate three weeks ago over Rep. Jim McGovernâ€™s (D-Massachusetts) unsuccessful attempt to transfer $30 million out of the U.S.-funded fumigation program in Colombia. â€œDemocrats in the House voted 161-28 for McGovern’s disastrous cut in U.S. aid,â€ Novak writes. â€œThe House Republicans saved Colombia, but ardent young officers of the national police are anxious to win this war.â€
Novak doesn’t ask why these brave police are being asked to risk their lives for a strategy that, after more than a decade of fumigation, hasn’t done a thing about coca or opium in Colombia. Both the U.S. government and the UN tell us that Colombian coca cultivation increased last year, despite record levels of spraying, and that Plan Colombia, begun in 2000, has proved unable to alter supplies of cocaine. The price of the drug on U.S. streets is lower than it was when Plan Colombia began.
Novak also faults Democratic critics for being concerned about the May incident in JamundÃ, south of Cali, in which a military patrol apparently in the service of drug traffickers massacred an elite police counter-drug unit. Novak cites as â€œevidence of Colombiaâ€™s escape from degradation as a narco-terrorist stateâ€ the mere fact that the colonel who headed the army brigade has been detained while the attorney-general investigates.
What does Novak propose to turn the tide and start showing results? Nothing more than the same strategy that has so far failed to show any results.
He quotes a police official who calls on the U.S. government to add 15 new fumigation planes to Colombiaâ€™s current U.S.-supported fleet of 21 planes. This 70 percent increase in capacity would allow fumigation to grow from the current 140,000 to about 240,000 hectares per year. Each plane would need at least two new escort helicopters, plus contractor pilots, maintenance, fuel and all other associated costs. Novakâ€™s (and thus the House Republicansâ€™) proposal would cost hundreds of millions more dollars per year.
Weâ€™ve been down this road before. Plan Colombia in 2000 made possible a tripling of fumigation in Colombia. $4.7 billion later, it didn’t work. Why would a near-doubling be any different?
Instead of acknowledging real failures and joining the search for a policy that actually works, Novak and his congressional ghostwriters have decided that the best defense is a good offense. The column launches yet another desperate attack on the policyâ€™s growing circle of critics.
In Novakâ€™s worldview, those who dare to find fault with the current approach are soft on drugs, cruel to Colombiaâ€™s self-sacrificing police, â€œleft-wing,â€ and perhaps even in thrall to narcotraffickers. He cites Rosso JosÃ© Serrano, a former Colombian police chief who is a hero to U.S. drug warriors, who told him that claims of environmental damage from fumigation stem from â€œthe campaign, all over the world, of the drug traffickers,â€ and that pressure from narco-terrorists is the only reason why European governments refuse to support fumigation.
Why is Novak recurring to such irresponsible and baseless attacks? Clearly, because his side of the discussion has lost the debate on its merits. They see no other way to defend their chosen strategy. They see no other way to avoid a turn toward governance and poverty reduction, and away from spray planes and helicopters.
Tactics like Novakâ€™s are often successful in Washington, and can do much to forestall a revision of our failed anti-drug policy in Colombia. But it is vital that this revision come soon, despite the efforts of Novak and his allies. We owe it to the hundreds of Colombian police who continue to risk their lives for a strategy that simply isnâ€™t working.