Monday, October 22, 2012

Cutting off snake heads failing strategy for drug-war Hydra

Hercules battling the Hydra
Grits was fascinated to see a headline from last week in the LA Times declaring "Two-thirds of most-wanted Mexican drug lords are now in custody, dead" (Oct. 18). However, asked the Times, "have the captures or killings of cartel leaders helped stem the violence in Mexico or reduce the flow of drugs to the United States? Not significantly." Instead, "The death or capture of a cartel leader, analysts repeatedly argue, usually sparks infighting for succession among lieutenants and thus more bloodshed."

While depressing, this of course is hardly news. In 2007, the federal Government Accountability Office concluded that the strategy of targeting kingpins "does not appear to have significantly reduced drug trafficking in Mexico, [although] it disrupted the cartels’ organizational structure. However, the disruption caused by the removal of some of the leadership presented opportunities for other drug traffickers to take advantage of the changing balance of power, and, in particular, to gain control of important transit corridors leading to the United States, such as Nuevo Laredo. Such struggles led to increased violence throughout Mexico."

Five years and 30,000+ Mexican murders later, we're pursuing the same strategies with worse results than ever.

In Greek mythology, Hercules famously fought the Hydra - a massive snake with many heads - and discovered that when he cut off one head, two would grow back in its place, allowing the beast to inflict even more violence. Hercules eventually won by changing tactics, but drug warriors in the US and Mexico continue to hew to the same, failing strategies while mostly ignoring the white-collar money laundering infrastructure that feeds the snake and allows the "heads" to multiply.

Grits doesn't know whether it's possible to definitively "win" the drug war, but it's certainly possible to ignominiously lose it, which by any metric one cares to examine is what's going on now.

MORE (Oct. 26): From the Houston Chronicle's Baker Institute blog, see a related item on Mexican drug-war "kingpins."


Amerloc said...

Related, at least sort of:

Anonymous said...

The Hydra reference to the drug war was driven home in Tom Clancy's "Clear and Present Danger". Clancy goes thru an exhaustive military cocaine interdiction in Coloumbia. In the fictional account, the military wins the battle. But Clancy himself makes the Hydra analogy and one comes away with the feeling, we won the battle, lots of dead Americans, but we will never win the war this way. The rah rah military stuff sold books. For the late '80's this Hydra reference was stunningly incisive!

Reminiscent of Yamamoto, "We have awakened a sleeping giant."

Drugs are a demand problem. 40 years of the war on (the supply of) drugs is proof. Any fool can see this.

The real Hydra now is the government using this simple fact to grow another head.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of my favorite Al Quaeda cartoon:


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Amerloc, you gave us a bad Boing Boing link. Here's the real one. Fascinating graph.

Rage, that is indeed about the size of it.

Anonymous said...

The war on drugs is the longest,most costly war the American government has been involved in to date,,,AFG is 1/4 the WOD in logevity and no mention of the WOD in Presidential debates at all.

That is corporate money speaking loud and clear by saying nothing and continuing onward through the fog.

Anonymous said...

The war on (some) drugs fuels violence because the “WAR” on drugs IS violence. It’s the policy of sending men with guns to arrest the sellers of certain drugs and their customers and lock them in government cages. All of the OTHER violence that surrounds the (non-alcohol, non-tobacco) drug trade is fundamentally a REACTION to that initial state-sponsored violence. Prohibition renders contracts unenforceable and makes it impossible for competitors to use the courts or the police to challenge intimidation or settle disputes. There are plenty of legal businesses that might love to “kill the competition,” but that only becomes a viable strategy under the black market conditions that prohibition creates. (Note that nobody from Coke or Pepsi has their decapitated corpse hung from a bridge as a result of the so-called “Cola Wars.”) Prohibition also raises the prices of illicit drugs and hence their profitability. (Econ 101: risk demands compensation.) This only increases sellers’ incentives to do “whatever it takes” to capture market share. Today you don’t see rival beer distributors engaging in deadly shoot-outs over turf, but you USED TO — during alcohol prohibition. Run a Google image search for “U.S. homicide rate graph” (not all together in quotes). Take a look at the murder rate before, after, and during alcohol prohibition (1919-1933). Then read some current news out of Mexico (pretty much any news will do). Spot a pattern? The use of state violence to address what is really a medical and health issue (as well as a matter of personal choice) has been a disaster. And it needs to stop.