October 7, 2010
If there's any word to describe the American political scene today, it's "myopic" — no forest, only trees. Confined to their own little boxes of self-interest and fear, most politicians and many of their constituents can't see the Big Picture, can't connect the dots between one issue and another.
Take the Mexican drug wars, for example.
The conflicts among the cartels, which have left 28,000 dead over the last four years, are fueled by arms primarily supplied by dealers in the United States. Yet there is no political will to shut off the supply. As The Washington Post reported recently, "Some 7,000 gun stores operate along the U.S.-Mexican border. Most are not required to notify authorities even if an individual buys dozens of assault weapons in a short period. In fiscal 2009 U.S. agents revoked the licenses of just 11 stores for violations. Once the guns are purchased — usually by ‘straw' buyers acting on behalf of cartel middlemen — they are easily trafficked across the border."
Reinstating the ban on the sale of assault weapons, which expired in 2004, would eliminate 80 percent of the estimated 5,000 AK-47s and similar firearms crossing the border every year. But Congress, ever in the thrall of the National Rifle Association, has been unable to pass such legislation. Even President Obama, once a forceful champion of the ban during the campaign, has retreated from his promise, despite pleas from Mexican President Felipe Calderón himself. What makes the most sense evokes the least action.
Then there are the dots between the drug producers, the drug runners, and the drug buyers and users. U.S. drug policy has focused primarily — and unsuccessfully — on shutting off the supply of drugs from abroad while doing little to decrease the demand here. A number of international think-tanks, such as the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, consider the so-called "war on drugs" a failure and recommend treating drug abuse as a public health issue, not a crime. Legalizing marijuana, which the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates comprises 60 percent of the Mexican drug cartels' business, may be far more effective in gutting them than interdict. As Jorge G. Castañeda, formerly foreign minister of Mexico and now a professor at New York University, and historian Héctor Aguilar Camín wrote in The Washington Post last month: "Legalization would make a significant chunk of that business vanish. As their immense profits shrank, the drug kingpins would be deprived of the almost unlimited money they now use to fund recruitment, arms purchases and bribes." They argue that passing California's Proposition 19, which would allow the private use, cultivation, and sale of marijuana, could effectively evaporate one of the cartels' major markets.
The dots are all over the map. They lie beyond borders. Connecting them demands understanding that it's not just us, it's all of us.