Does drug money support terror?

I miss the old anti-drug ads. The ones that bluntly likened a drug user’s brain to a fried egg. That classic ad, accompanied by the deadpan, "This is your brain … this is your brain on drugs" has evolved. The sizzling fear factor that kept experimenting at bay was recently replaced by ads that portray drug use as "uncool" (as if squaredom were suddenly hip). But as of late, neither the fear factor nor the threat of being uncool succeeds in keeping teens away from drugs the way it used to. Therefore, the White House has come up with a new $19 billion anti-drug campaign, one that evokes fear’s arch rival: guilt. Hopefully this campaign, just as oversimplified as they’ve always been, will have something more to show for itself than ten words and a four second shot of a fried egg. Or at least be more convincing.

In the largest government ad buy in history, the White House Office of Drug Control Policy paid $3.4 million for a new anti-drug commercial which posits that narcotic-buying Americans indirectly fund international terrorism. The ad begins like a "priceless" MasterCard commercial but sharply diverts when the buying turns to Ak-47s ($400), plane tickets ($1000), explosives ($400) and fake passports ($500). There is no "priceless" conclusion, but instead the question of where terrorists get their money. The answer? If you buy drugs, you may be funding international terrorism.

President Bush echoed the commercial’s conclusion: "You know I’m asked all the time, ‘How can I help fight against terror? And what can I do, what can I as a citizen do to defend America?’ Well, one thing you can do is not purchase illegal drugs." If only it were that simple.

This is among the most pathetic of all the ill-fated ventures intended to stop the supply and demand of drugs. Slate.com pinpointed, "Of all the various attempts to use tragedy to make a point, this is among the most transparently manipulative."

What would this ad have us believe? The commercial argues that terrorists profit from the illegal drug trade only insofar as they have customers. Thus if you buy drugs, you are supporting their business and indirectly funding their cause. (As if the complexities of the drug trade could be reduced to such an elementary equation.) While this may be true, the commercial still leaves out facts of the drug trade that would otherwise reveal its manipulative argumentation.

Unlike other recent ads, but much like the fried egg, the terrorist ad doesn’t specify which drug we should feel guilty about buying. Ads broadcast temporally between those two focused mainly on household inhalants and pot. The terrorist ad would have us believe that everything–from locally grown marijuana to European MDMA–pays for jihads around the globe. Luckily it doesn’t take much to realize that the terrorists being referred to here are the "Islamic" ones, which by implication specifies heroin as the drug. Even if this is so, the ad is still misleading–it still leaves out that Afghan heroin alone has a retail value of $30 billion annually, a figure that applies only to Europe, and that Colombia, a country unrecognized as a breeding ground of international terrorism, supplies the United States with 75 percent of its heroin (the Colombian farmers, much like the Afghans, are abandoning their traditional crops for poppy, and who can blame them?). One thing the commercial does leave us with is the misguided thought that eliminating drugs and eliminating terrorism go hand-in-hand–another oversimplified idea, one that smacks of the old hope that eliminating Pablo Escobar would end drug trafficking altogether.

And contrary to the commercial’s premise, the bulk of the profits from the drug trade has not gone to the Taliban or Northern Alliance but instead to corrupt officials and criminal gangs from the Russian Federation to Europe.

If I can oversimplify just this once, the success of the drug trade is dependent on drugs being illegal. In this case, it really may be that simple. The corrupt officials who protect the drug trade vindicate Anarchisis’s metaphor that the law is like a spider web that holds down only the weak and is torn through by the strong. That drugs continue to be outlawed is the only assurance drug cartels have in keeping their customers. A kilo of heroin from the poor Afghan farmer jumps from $300 to a retail value of $100,000. Markups like that don’t exist under the sphere of a legal business.

Personally, I hope the White House will stop insulting viewers’ intelligence and settle for the classic style of the old ads. They were at least mildly entertaining in their efforts to sway teens away from the grimy world of drugs. They were a throwback to my childhood dinner table where my parents would come up with newer and worse ways to get me hooked on vegetables. But even my parents, willing to do anything for my health, never stooped to have me believe I would cause their greater demise if I didn’t buckle down and eat.

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Title: Does drug money support terror? | Author: Andrew Rothgaber | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2002-02-27 | Internal ID: 2521