THE BLOG

How We Won the War on Drugs, Repeatedly, and How to Win the Afghanistan War

07/07/2010 02:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The head of American drug policy was not always the drug czar. That took place under Ronald Reagan - pressed by then-Senator Joe Biden (Joe has always been a nut around drugs and alcohol), the Senate created the position of head of overall American drug policy in 1982 - although the current Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), whose director is the czar, was only created in 1988.

Bill Bennett was drug czar under the first George Bush, and remains a strong supporter of the war. Making great claims for his tenure, Bennett repeatedly expressed displeasure with the results brought about by the Clinton drug czars he handed off to - Houston police chief Les Brown and General Barry McCaffrey.

According to Richard Cortes, writing in Vanity Fair in July 2009, during the Bennett-Brown-McCaffrey years, "Incarceration for drug-law violations increased 1,100 percent between 1980 and 2002 (from Reagan through Bush I and Clinton), yet cocaine and heroin prices fell by 80 percent."

McCaffrey, like Bennett, claimed he did a bang-up job, infinitely improving the illicit drug situation in the U.S. - a claim that was repeated by the drug czar under George W. Bush, John Walters. But, according to Cortes, before making way for the Obama Administration, Walters spent "more than $100 billion to [fight] the war. Still, illicit drug use among adult Americans during the Bush administration remained unchanged."

Finally, we elected a President - in Barack Obama - who espoused a radical change in our approach to drug policy. However, although Barack Obama's drug czar, former police chief Gil Kerlikowske, announced on his appointment that the drug war has been a failure, and that we need to take a less bellicose posture towards drugs, it's hard to see how that makes much difference.

Kelikowske's deputy czar in charge of demand reduction, psychiatric researcher Thomas McLellan, made liberal policy noises, but then resigned while seeming to have had no effect on policy. Kelikowske, meanwhile, has absolutely ruled out legalizing marijuana, has pressed for DEA enforcement against medical marijuana centers in California, and has egged on the imbecile Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, in his constantly escalating, increasingly disastrous, drug war South of our border.

How do you think Kelikowske will rate his success as drug czar? I predict - like all the drug czars before him - he will announce his near-ultimate success on departing, take his marbles home, and blame his successor for the fact that the war on drugs - just about completed before he unfortunately had to leave office - continues unabated.

So here's how you succeed as commander in the Afghanistan War, General Petraeus. You stay a reasonable length of time, cherry pick some likely looking statistics that reflect favorably on your tenure, then get your butt out of there and blame all subsequent failures on your successor. The important thing is to get out before an obvious and overwhelming defeat occurs on your watch. Just a steady state of failure is all you need to be able to point proudly to the accomplishments under your leadership - then you can seek higher office, or become a pundit for Fox or MSNBC News. Sweet.