Saturday, May 29, 2010

Drug Gangs and Jihadis: Our Self-Created Permanent Demons


by Tom Hayden

To the Long War against Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan must be added the globalized Long War against drugs and street gangs.  Without being declared national policy, counterinsurgency is beginning to define both foreign and domestic government approaches.

A Long War is a permanent war over many decades against an enemy so demonized that political solutions are rendered unthinkable, off the table. Such a war is virtually permanent, greatly clandestine, beyond democratic accountability, and its enormous casualties and budgetary costs little discussed.  [See]

Welcome to the joining of domestic and foreign policy through a single national security apparatus, in which former issues seen as political and economic have been redefined as crime, drugs and terrorism.

As the Cold War between the Soviets and our government ended, Donald Rumsfeld was declaring in 2005 that "drug traffickers, smugglers, hostage-takers, terrorists, violent gangs - these are the threats that are serious."[1]  The official wars on drugs, crime and gangs, launched with Nixon's 1968 Crime Control and Safe Streets Act and his 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention Act, gained new momentum as these problems were defined expansively and funded as national security threats. By 1986 Reagan was calling illegal drugs a "national security threat"; Clinton declared a "drug emergency" by 1999. According to William LeoGrande of American University, With the Cold War over, financing another Latin American counterinsurgency would have been politically unpopular with Congress; financing a war on drugs was more palatable."[2]

Today the war on drugs blends into the counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Colombia, the sources of most of the heroin and cocaine entering the United States. Mexico, where a border war has resulted in over 22,000 deaths in just three years, is a top American supplier as well.  In an earlier generation, the Vietnam War hooked hundreds of thousands of American soldiers on heroin and other drugs.

In the 1960s, pushed by the FBI with federal funding, police departments nationwide instituted anti-gang, anti-drug and anti-terror units, beginning with the LAPD's SWAT teams in the 1960s. Chiefs like Bill Bratton in New York, later the LAPD commander, introduced the label "domestic terrorism." The Central American wars of the 1970s-80s pushed hundreds of thousands of traumatized refugees to American streets, where cross-border street gangs arose, like the Mara Salvatrucha. Tens of billions would be spent on expanding the domestic war on drugs to Latin America, the latest initiatives being Plan Colombia in 1999 [$6 billion+ thus far] and the 2007 Merida Initiative [$1.6 billion]. The North American Free Trade Agreement was to be "armored", in the phrase of US diplomat Thomas Shannon. The Mexican-US border was militarized year by year.

Law and order [or "mano dura"] politics proved effective across the borders, usually accompanied by market-based economic policies that cut into safety nets and opened the way for private capital investment. The latest example is the narrow triumph of Mexican president Felipe Calderon, an opponent of NAFTA and architect of Mexico's war on drug gangs. Calderon's team was advised by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, author of New York's crusade against gangs in the 1990s.

The trend combining militarization and privatization was occurring not only in Latin America, but was pioneered in Los Angeles after the 1992 inner-city uprising, when private investment advocates were placed in charge of "Rebuild LA." The result: after promising $6 billion in private investment to create 74,000 jobs in five years, the operation folded quietly three years later. A decade after the uprising, official figures showed a net job loss of 50,000 in the zone where the uprising took place. While government social programs were privatized, public expenditures on LA police rose to over $2 billion per year, 30-40 percent of the city budget.

By 2000 it was accurate to speak of a globalization of gangs as well as drugs. This process was dramatized by the globalized cycle of uprooting, migration, arrest and deportation accompanied by cuts in government subsidies for social programs and, the development of social wastelands where banks and corporations simply would not invest. In the phrase of Mike Davis, drawing on UN statistics, we were becoming a planet of slums.
In March 2005, a 40-page paper by Max Manwaring of the US Army War College, bearing the title "Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency", described the gangs as "a mutated form of urban insurgency", sure signs of the rising threat of "non-state actors" in a failed-state syndrome. Manwaring warned that the gangs would have to "eventually seize political power" to guarantee their environments, a wild exaggeration.

The counter-terrorism blogger John Robb followed Manwaring with a supportive piece describing the gangs as "global guerrillas"[3], who "parallel the development of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations [as] rivals of nation-states."

Soon after, a Foreign Affairs article appeared under another inflammatory title, "How the Street Gangs Took Central America" [May/June 2005].  Its false premise was that Salvadoran gangs were responsible for most of the shooting and looting in LA in 1992, but no one contested the urban legend. The author, Ana Arana, using law enforcement data, claimed there were 30,000 gang members in El Salvador and 40,000 in Honduras, while LA police were claiming as many 100,000 gangsters on the city's streets, a number later cut in half.  Arana, added the shocker, that
" In September 2004, US officials grew concerned when Honduran authorities reported citing in Tegucigalpa a known al Qaeda operative named Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, and rumors circulated of a meeting between the jihadists and the maras." 
Sounding like the alleged meetings between al Qaeda and agents of Saddam Hussein preceding the Iraq War, Central American officials denied the conspiracy but Arana went on, citing the reasoning of one US official: "If they can smuggle people looking for a job [into the United States], they can smuggle people interested in terror."

Not long after, an FBI gang suppression task force was integrated with immigration officials, US federal marshals, prison bureaus, and the Drug Enforcement Agency into an information-sharing and training agreement with Central American police, army and prison officials. Training in Central America was handled by the Justice Department's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program [ICITAP], a kind of School of the Americas for local police.
It was at the same time that Paul Wolfowitz, the primary intellectual architect of the Iraq War, said "It would be interesting if we could find some real experts on attacking gangs and send them to Iraq on this operation."[4]  Sure enough, the LAPD sent trainers to support US forces in Baghdad. This week's New York Times featured a long article on a Marine counterinsurgency operative, Captain Scott Cuomo, who was trained by the LAPD's anti-gang unit between tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. [NYT, May 24, 2010]. Numbers are not available, but many returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have returned to fill the ranks of local police departments. 

It didn't seem to matter to the "drug warriors" that their 40-year crusade was costing, according to the Associated Press, "$1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives", while leaving drug use "rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread." [5]

The neo-conservatives were prepared to tighten the linkages. Robert Kaplan, for example, predicted an apocaplyse where countries like India and Mexico would be "undermined by a volcano of unemployed youth in urban slums" as "armies of murderous teen-agers [rise] in West Africa", and terrorist cadre multiply among "hundreds of millions of unemployed young males in the developing world, angered by the income disparities that accompany globalization." These crazed teenagers were linked with global mafias, Middle Eastern suicide bombers, and al Qaeda, Kaplan reported. They were a wave of warriors driven by "the thrill of violence."[6]

Kaplan's findings were reiterated by Michael Ignatieff, then at the Carr Human Rights Center at Harvard, in his advocacy of "empire light." Military intervention was necessary to stabilize markets where order "breaks down, and crime, chaos and terror take root in the rotten, unpoliced interstices."[7]  Ignatieff may have derived the concept of the interstices from the 1927 book on Chicago gangs by sociologist Frederic Thrasher, who recommended a gang peace process and social programs to fill the interstices rather than police suppression. [8]

None of the neo-conservatives like Kaplan offer an economic plan to address the "income disparities that accompany globalization." This is because they are neo-Darwinians in both domestic and foreign policy, followers of James Q. Wilson who argues that poverty is moral rather than economic, the result of family breakdown and the decline of the Protestant Ethic. Wilson's doctrines were picked up by William Bennett and others during the Reagan era, who formulated the coming threat of the "super-predator."[9] (That notion, which was embraced by President Clinton, was later repudiated by its principle academic source, John DiIullio, as based on the distortion of his own data.[10])  Ultimately, the Wilson-neoconservaitve project was to restore the centrality of Evil as a force in human affairs, helping to justify a Christian evangelical awakening. Since Evil was caused by the Devil or implanted in the DNA, the spending of large sums on jobs or social programs was an irrelevant waste, a convenient doctrine for the Republican Party and nervous law-and-order Democrats.
And so the gang and narco-terror phenomena grew in the new interstices of globalization, taking root in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico City, Jamaica, Brazil, South Africa, the Muslim suburbs of Paris, the white housing projects of Poland, even among Maori youth in New Zealand.

Back in the US, police departments developed and expanded a hardline gang-enforcement effort targeting young men of color. Stop-and-frisk programs amounted to domestic counter-insurgency. Between 2004 and 2009, police stopped and frisked such young people three million times, even though "upward of 90 percent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing." NYPD numbers revealed that 2.8 million stops were made, including 1.4 million African-Americans and 843,816 Latinos. The names were entered into a mammoth and secret database, "indefinitely, for use in future investigations", according to a NY police commissioner.[11] The process was condemned as "Jim Crow policing", by columnist Bob Herbert.[12]

In Los Angeles, during a period known for police reform, the same policies were aimed at underclass youth. According to a Harvard review of LAPD data, pedestrian and car stops leaped 49 percent from 587,200 in 2002, to 875,204 in 2008, mainly in gang neighborhoods. [13] Stop-and-frisk interviews grew, with the information sent to the gang database. A key Harvard finding was that the stops increased not so much for Part One offenses [homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor theft] but for non-serious Part Two offenses [disorderly conduct, prostitution, DUI, drug offenses]. Only fifteen percent of all stops were for Part One offenses. The police, according to the Harvard study, were deciding to "use arrest powers more aggressively for less-serious crimes." The number of juveniles arrested for Part Two offenses doubled from 1990. While citing improvements from the past, the Harvard team concluded that "our direct observation of the LAPD confirmed for us that the culture of the Department remains aggressive; we saw a lot of force displayed in what seemed to be routine enforcement situations." None of hundreds of citizens' complaints about racial profiling were sustained by police investigators through 2007.

The bottom line: in 2009, there were 395 arrests per day in Los Angeles, 95 of them drug-related, and another 298 for what Harvard experts call "minor crimes." 

Despite years of reform efforts, there can be only one conclusion drawn from the Harvard data: that law enforcement chooses to apply street arrests, gang data bases, and mass incarceration - domestic military solutions - to a crisis of the underclass that is racial, social and economic. "No other nation treats people who commit nonviolent crimes as harshly as the US", writes American University professor William LeoGrande.[14]

US national estimate, gang-related: 25,000, 1980-present [Hayden, Street Wars, The New Press, 2005]
Los Angeles, gang-related: 13,928, from 1980-2009. [LAPD data]

US drug overdoses increased over 400 percent in the period of 1980-99, and more than doubled between 1999 and 2005. The total overdose deaths between 1999 and 2005 was 112,865. [CDC, via Drug Policy Alliance]

Mexico: 22,700 deaths in border drug wars since the election of Felipe Calderon in 2006. [CNN]
Colombia: according to Colombian government data, 20,915 "subversives" and government forces have been killed since 2002;  plus an additional 14,028 civilians.

Afghanistan: 10,000 died of overdoses in NATO countries during 2009 alone from Afghanistan heroin.[15]

American VA reports 22,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans sought drug treatment in 2009, up from 9,000 in 2006.
-       After 40 years, $1 trillion from US taxpayers. [16]
-       From $100 million in first Nixon budget to $15.1 billion in 2010;
-       $20 billion to fight drug gangs in Colombia, Mexico and other countries;
-       $49 billion for policing US borders;
-       $450 billion to incarcerate 37 million nonviolent drug offenders;
-       $215 billion, according to the Department of Justice, for an "overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity and environmental destruction."

-       Obama's current budget request: $15.5 billion for drug war, $5.6 billion for prevention and treatment.

-       According to the New York Times, the US has under five percent of the world's population but nearly one-fourth of the world's inmates. [17]
-       Total inmates, 2008: 2.3 millon, highest in world; China is second with 1.6 million inmates and four times the US population;
-       US has 751 inmates per 100,000 population; Russia is second with 627/100,000; England has 151/100,000; Germany 88/100,000; Japan, 63/100,000.
-       These rates have escalated since the Reagan era; from 1925 to 1975, the rate was stable at 110/100,000.
-       In 1980, there were 40,000 in jails and prisons on drug charges; current numbers are 500,000, approximately.
[1]  Charles Aldinger, "US, Central America Discuss Security Cooperation", Reuters, Oct. 12, 2005
[2]  William LeoGrande, "From the Red Menace to Radical Populism", World Policy Journal, winter 2005/2006.
[3]  John Robb,, Mar. 18, 2005
[4]  Atlantic Monthly, July-Aug. 2005, p. 118
[5]  AP, "After 40 years, $1 trillion US drug war has met none of its goals: Analysis", May 13, 2010
[6]  Kaplan, Warrior Politics, Random House, 2002, pp. 136, 119
[7]  Ignatief, Empire Lite, Penguiin, 2003, p. 124
[8]  Frederic Thrasher, The Gang, University of Chicago Press, 1927, 1963.
[9]  Bennett, DiIulio, and Walters, Body Count: Moral Poverty and How to Win America's War Against Crime and Drugs, Simon & Schuster, 1996, p. 26
[10]  "Head of Religion-Based Initiative Resigns", NYT, Aug. 18, 2001.
[11]  Bob Herbert, "Watching Certain People", NYT, March 1, 2010.
[12]  Bob Herbert, "Jim Crow Policing", NYT, February 1, 2010.
[13]  Harvard Kennedy School, "Policing Los Angeles Under a Consent Decree", Stone, Foglesong, Cole, May 2009.
[14]  LeoGrande, World Policy Journal.
[15]  "Report Shows Afghan Drugs Reach Deep in the West", NYT, Oct 23, 2009.
[16]  AP, May 13, 2010.
[17]  Adam Liptak, "US Prison Population Dwarfs that of Other Nations", NYT, April 23, 2008.

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