Politics & Policy

John Kerry’s Brain On Drugs

Why won't he fight terrorists as hard as he fights drug traffickers?

John Kerry’s zeal in pursuing insurgents and terrorists was second to none–in 1989, when he chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, and the bad guys were in Latin America. The subcommittee’s report excoriated U.S. foreign-policy planners for failing to take the “drug war” seriously. Senator Kerry’s letter of transmittal cautioned, “The United States has too often in the past allowed other foreign policy objectives to interfere with the war on drugs.”

Today, Senator Kerry acknowledges that nuclear-armed terrorists are America’s “single greatest threat” (although he and Senator Edwards are rightly exercised about Afghanistan’s revived opium trade). So you have to stop and ask: Why doesn’t Senator Kerry show the same enthusiasm for the war on terror that he showed for the war on drugs?

Granted, it wasn’t all outrage at drug trafficking that motivated Senator Kerry; politics (are you shocked?) played a part. According to a Boston Globe biography of Kerry, the senator first became interested in investigating narcotics policy because of its connection to U.S. support for Nicaragua’s Contras: “[T]he US was embroiled in another anti-communist crusade in a distant land, and Kerry was determined to prevent a repeat of Vietnam.”

The Globe’s article suggests Kerry was granted leadership of the subcommittee as a consolation prize for failing to bring down Ronald Reagan’s presidency through investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. Senator Mitch McConnell, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, told the Globe the committee was “being conducted as if it were a division of the Dukakis campaign,” trying unsuccessfully to dig up dirt on the first President Bush. Not finding anything to incriminate Bush, the subcommittee did its job and issued a report highly critical of America’s lackadaisical international narcotics efforts.

The report’s letter of transmittal thanked three members of the Foreign Relations Committee staff and four members of Kerry’s personal staff for their work, and no other staffers were mentioned. Since Senator Kerry called for the subcommittee’s formation, chaired it, and staffed it with his own people, and still brags about it as part of his Senate record, it is fair to extrapolate Kerry’s positions from his report.

The Kerry Report advocated the State Department exercise tighter control of visas from suspect countries. It also favored giving the president extraordinary powers to sanction trafficking nations, for example by prohibiting aircraft from suspect countries from landing or prohibiting ships that have stopped in their ports from unloading in the U.S. for 60 days. The report even recommended allowing the president to sanction uncooperative drug-producing countries by “denying or limiting non-immigrant visas to nationals of any such nation.”

After September 11, Senator Kerry has yet to recommend a similar crackdown on visas or vessels from nations with links to terror. During the September 30 debate, Kerry criticized President Bush for failing to inspect containers entering American ports, but for some reason he never thought to advance the same severe measures for securing our ports from nuclear weapons that he once advocated for stopping drug traffickers.

The report reveals that some of our ostensible allies in the war on drugs were less than candid about their own interests. The Bahamas, for example, retained a public-relations firm to refocus U.S. drug policy away from Caribbean interdiction. Some of Kerry’s harshest criticism is directed at U.S. attempts to preserve international alliances and goodwill at the expense of pursuing drug traffickers. Both the State Department and the intelligence community were lambasted for getting cozy with “friendly” governments like those of Panama’s Manuel Noriega, who cultivated American support even as he laundered billions for the Colombian cartels: “General Noriega represents the best example in recent U.S. foreign policy of a how a foreign leader is able to manipulate the United States to the detriment of our own interests,” states Kerry’s report.

Despite Senator Kerry’s infamous description of the terror war as “primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation,” he was itching to go much further in pursuit of narcotraffickers: “The government should consider how to utilize…political, economic, and, if need be, even military options in order to neutralize the growing power of the cartels.” Senator Kerry would soon vote to authorize the first President Bush’s unilateral invasion of Panama to oust Noriega. (After which, of course, Kerry voted against ousting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.)

In the war on terror, many of our allies are similarly compromised. But rather than arguing once again for an independent pursuit of terrorists and the regimes that shelter them, Senator Kerry now emphasizes negotiation, rebuilding international goodwill, and enlisting the cooperation of the United Nations.

The Kerry Report also called for tougher laws to stop the money launderers that facilitated drug trafficking. When the State Department and CIA used front companies as conduits for aid to Nicaragua’s Contras, but then discovered many of the companies were linked to the drug trade, the report accused them of, at best, negligence; at worst, those responsible were “turning a blind eye to the activities of companies who use legitimate activities as a cover” for drug traffic.

One would think, then, that Senator Kerry might now show a similar outrage at the U.N. Oil-for-Food program, which the GAO says allowed Saddam Hussein’s regime to skim ten or eleven billion dollars into its coffers–effectively laundering his oil into munitions and Mercedes-Benzes. As he did with the Kerry Report and also with the BCCI investigations, Senator Kerry could be leading the charge once again to expose corrupt institutions. Instead he seems more interested in ingratiating himself with them, and “passing the global test.”

What changed? Most likely, nothing. In his heart of hearts, Senator Kerry knows that winning the terror war will probably require some of the drastic methods he once advocated for disrupting the cartels. But to insist on these methods today would alienate the antiwar, liberal-internationalist voters at his party’s core.

It might also focus attention on his continuing record as a drug warrior. Unlike Vietnam, this is a war he has not yet repudiated. National-security adviser to the Kerry campaign–and a likely Kerry Cabinet appointee–is Rand Beers, formerly assistant secretary of State for Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, whose own record includes an aggressive pursuit of drug traffickers in Latin America.

All this may come as a shock to the psychotropic propagandists at High Times, who endorsed Kerry on October 15, noting that “In the 1980’s, John Kerry exposed the hypocrisy of these Drug Warriors…[H]e headed an investigation that turned up extensive evidence of drug deals involving the CIA and the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, evidence that pointed directly to the drugs-for-arms-for-hostages scheme at the heart of the Iran Contra Scandal.” (Actually, both a subsequent CIA investigation and an independent Justice Department investigation confirmed that despite Kerry’s sinister intimations, the Contra drug trade was no CIA “scheme,” but an intelligence failure.)

High Times misses the point: If they are looking to scapegoat a politician for what they perceive as a mistake in internationalizing the drug war, John Kerry is their man. His report recommends: “While the United States must continue to develop and implement a strategy for interdiction, the most significant portion of the federal effort should focus on denying the drug cartels comfortable foreign havens where they are protected by private armies and corrupt government officials.”

Sounds suspiciously like the Bush Doctrine, but for drug cartels instead of for terrorists.

Clinton W. Taylor is a lawyer and a Ph.D. student in Political Science at Stanford, and a commentator on KZSU, Stanford’s radio station.


The Latest