Wednesday, 7 September 2011

No drug policy please, we're politicians.

In a recent book by John Dower called "Cultures of war" there are some useful pointers to what makes the war on drugs such a dead-end and self-defeating exercise.

What makes Iraq and Afghanistan different from the (successful) turnarounds of Japan and Germany after 1945 is the fact that the occupation and subsequent régime change had been prepared years in advance by people who understood the situation on the ground and believed in the power of the state to bring about that change. Many mistakes were made but it basically worked.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, as in the war on drugs, we see the sort of  thinking that is making the institutions (and  bank accounts) of the world sag under the weight of the fact-free polices of the Victorian poor house: you shall suffer for your own good (budget cuts if you're lucky, shock and awe if you're not, prison if you're caught in possession again), and the future is nobody's business for God shall provide. And while we wait for that we shall build prisons and apply the Patriot Act.

The war on drugs - in which I include the less spectacular excesses of European politicians and judiciaries - is like the great wars of the 20th century in that it pushes civilised nations into a frenzied suspension of values.  Generations that grew up after the war were never taught to question the slaughter of civilians on an industrial scale, at least not of German or Japanese vivilians. The last upsurge of independent thought that Western societies have known were the events of 1968. They died down and were smothered in the materialism of the market economy that eventually overcame all other ideologies.

And so it goes with drug policies. Independent, critical analysis is a rare thing either among politicians or the media, although both claim the contrary. The political ineptitude and bureaucratic sloth that increasingly surrounds us in Europe and the US is a formidable obstacle to the development of drug policies for tomorrow.

There are rays of hope though. The Global Commission on Drug Policies is one. It is made up of leading ex-politicians who still have credit, but not for ever. They have addressed their report to the UN earlier this year, calling for a change of direction. We are still waiting for a similar approach to be made to the EU.


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