The War on Terror/Drugs

While doing research for my senior thesis last year (more on that, perhaps, another time), I read an excellent book by Greg Grandin called Empire’s Workshop, in which he argued that the Reagan administration’s training, funding, and other support for far-right Central American regimes in the 1980s could be seen as practice by US in imperial foreign policy, to be later reenacted by many of the same neoconservatives in the [George W.] Bush Administration’s War in Iraq.  (Man, sorry for that doozy of a hideous sentence.)  It’s a compelling argument, and Grandin concludes by describing the way these policies and tactics were re-imported to Central (and South) America in the US’s antinarcotics operations.

That last bit seems to be part of a broader critique of the “War on Terror” and the “War on Drugs” in which critics see each “war” as an inappropriate use of US global police power.  They argue that these “wars” do little to solve and may even exacerbate the problems they address and that they tend to blend together.  I’ve always seen this sort of argument as a radical position that didn’t crop up in the mainstream, but then I read this New York Times article today, “U.S. Expands Drug Fight to Africa, a Newer Hub for Cartels”:

In a significant expansion of the war on drugs, the United States has begun training an elite unit of counternarcotics police in Ghana and planning similar units in Nigeria and Kenya as part of an effort to combat the Latin American cartels that are increasingly using Africa to smuggle cocaine into Europe.


The aggressive response by the United States is also a sign of how greater attention and resources have turned to efforts to fight drugs as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down.

“We see Africa as the new frontier in terms of counterterrorism and counternarcotics issues,” said Jeffrey P. Breeden, the chief of the D.E.A.’s Europe, Asia and Africa section. “It’s a place that we need to get ahead of — we’re already behind the curve in some ways, and we need to catch up.”

If even US officials are openly admitting some sort of continuity between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, then either the above-mentioned critique isn’t as radical as I thought or the fuzzy boundaries between these operations isn’t considered problematic or embarrassing anymore.

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