learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...


learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...

notably heroin and marijuana, to American troops, as well as from national division over

the war more broadly. Domestically, the United States faced a mounting crisis from an

expanding variety of illicit drugs then being widely abused by Americans President

Nixon’s concern for these twin threats, drugs abroad and at home prompted him to identify

the national effort to halt the abuse of illicit drug as a major policy goal of his administration.

In articulating his intention Nixon echoed the politically successful theme of a

“war on poverty” from the preceding Johnson administration. His use of this rhetorical

device describing his new initiative as a “war,” should not, however, be taken as an indication

that the effort lacked sincerity or executive authority. Even a cursory examination of

the manner in which the Nixon administration vaulted bureaucratic boundaries, reordered

major elements of several cabinet departments, and ultimately chartered an

entirely new government organization, The United States Drug Enforcement Administration

(DEA) reveals Nixon’s determination to bring the full weight of the federal government

to bear in solving the national drug problem. In truth, the ringing, but inaccurate

metaphor of making “war on drugs” served the Nixon administration and its successors in

office badly. The war metaphor on offer at the outset of the Nixon initiative and never

wholly repudiated though frequently criticized and even ridiculed in subsequent years,

has caused a considerable amount of the confusion and lack of focus in America’s CD

effort ever since.


However firm President Nixon and his administration were in their intent to solve

America’s drug problem, they did not go to war. There was no war on drugs, any more

than there was actually a war on poverty, and there had been no such war in any of the

years since the Nixon administration enormous yearly appropriations for the national CD

effort notwithstanding what those dollars have been supporting cannot be called a war.

When nations go to war, they characteristically devote their full power to defeating the

enemy, as reflected in the classic U.S. Army phrase of “close with and destroy the enemy

by force or violence.” Nations at war also suspend many of the customary features of normal

international relations. They engage in conduct violating the normal courtesies and

relation between nations, although this suspension is applied only to nation recognized as

parties to the war, while customary relations with others may continue. Although the

effort against drugs was referred to as a war, it was not pursued through traditional military

strategies, which provide for such things as direct assaults across national boundaries.

The attack, the essence of the offensive, is central to such strategies. When the U.S.

launched its CD effort, it employed instead a law enforcement strategy, grounded in such

concepts as due process and the rules of evidence, a far more restrictive operating environment

than the rules governing the conduct of military operations. Law enforcement is

based upon an inherently reactive strategy, a defense, and police action occurs in response

to the illegal activity of criminals. Law enforcement organizations are generally denied

the benefit of seizing the initiative, and, above all, initiating the attack at a place and time

of their own choosing. The task facing law enforcement officers is thus significantly more

complicated than the tasks of military commanders who can seek direct confrontation and

decisive engagement of the enemy when advantageous circumstances arise. Military


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