07/02/2012 04:09 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2012

I Would Have Voted to Hold Holder in Contempt

The U.S. House of Representatives held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failing to provide subpoenaed information about a gun-running operation the United States ran from Arizona across the Mexican border that resulted in the death of a Border Patrol agent. The vote was 255-67 against Holder, including all the Republican members of Congress and 17 Democrats. (More than 100 Democrats boycotted the vote.)

The operation, called Fast and Furious (an action-oriented, bold name!), began in 2009 and involved American agents tracking illicit gun sales rather than confiscating the weapons, then losing track of the illegal firearms, many of which ended up in the hands of -- and presumably were used to kill people by -- drug cartels.

Whose idea was this program? We're not sure. What was its rationale? The idea was that, per many drug operations, lower-level factotums would hopefully lead agents to cartel kingpins. As to the underlying template for the operation, it seems that law enforcement at all levels likes to perform complex operations that make them look sophisticated. However, as often happens in such complex operations, the program was unmanageable and quickly got out of hand, with disastrous results. (Think The Wire.)

For example, the use of informants to finger inner-city drug dealers is commonplace -- while also possibly leading to mistaken arrests, illegal break-ins by the police, and shootings of innocent people. As Congress voted to cite Holder for contempt, the New York Times ran a feature about Atlanta police shooting and killing a 92-year-old black woman when a snitch the police had leaned on "gave up" the woman's home at random to an invading SWAT squad, who shot and killed her in a hale of bullets.

Operation Fast and Furious sounds like something that conservative, law-enforcement types would come up with, and that Republicans might initiate, since they're supposed to be more invested in law enforcement, conspiracies, and counter-conspiracies than liberals are. But when it comes to anything drug-related, all bets are off -- the Obama administration takes a back seat to no one in its hatred of drugs and willingness to go to any lengths to fight them, in Latin America and elsewhere. Witness the administrations laughing off increasing local opposition to American drug interdiction efforts in their countries, and the growing number of Latin leaders who say that drugs should be legalized and the drug trade regulated and controlled.

I'd like to get to the bottom of how this mentality takes hold and drives such irrational and counterproductive policies even in a Democratic administration, which may put them forward as a way for Democrats to establish how much they take a back seat to no one in their hatred of drugs and in how far they are willing to go in pursuit of them -- including the crazy, irresponsible, doomed-from-the-get-go Operation Fast and Furious.