The problem is not that the drug war has failed

The headline got my attention: Outgoing U.S. ambassador to Mexico lashes out on drug war
Ah, I thought, someone ready to speak out about how we need to look elsewhere than the destructive prohibition model.
And there were hopeful indications in the article:

After six sometimes tumultuous years as ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza is speaking out forcefully about U.S. responsibility for Mexico’s widening drug violence. […]
It’s that kind of candor that over the years has won Mr. Garza both kudos and criticism on both sides of the border.

So what is this radical departure that Garza is recommending?

“The U.S. and Mexico must fight these criminal organizations together, or we will fail together.”


More than 6,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006.
“You bet this is cause for concern,” Mr. Garza said. “The cartels and drug dealers have crossed that line from recklessly endangering civilians in their attacks on law enforcement officials and other criminals to deliberately targeting innocent men, women and children.”
He added: “President Felipe Calderon will not be intimidated. This is not a battle that they — or us, for that matter — can afford to lose. … We’ve got to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”

So apparently, his maverick approach involves, uh, fighting the war better?

Mr. Garza’s Mexican counterparts applaud his work, though the relationship has had tense periods, such as when Mexico refused to support the U.S.-backed U.N. war resolution against Iraq. And Mexican diplomats objected to Mr. Garza’s vocal criticism about what he believed was Mexico’s slow response to drug violence during the administration of Mr. Calderon’s predecessor, Vicente Fox.

Ah, it’s that the 6,000 deaths haven’t been enough. Apparently, we need more violence. That’s the radical departure from how we are conducting our drug war.
And this is the problem with saying that the drug war has failed. It assumes that there is some other way of conducting the drug war that would be successful. If only we did this, or tweaked this, or added drug courts, or mandated treatment, or gave police tanks, or…
It’s not that the drug war has failed. The war on drugs is in itself an impossible idea.
Its entire premise is based on the notion that we can overturn the laws of economics if we just get bigger guns. But we can’t. The economic laws always win. And so, even attempting to conduct a war on drugs is a mistake that causes more damage than it could ever hope to prevent.
In a free society, criminal prohibition of an easily-produced high-demand commodity cannot work and will always cause greater harm to the society.
So, while I am pleased to hear that 76% of the population believes the war on drugs has failed, the problem is we don’t know what that means.
We need Zogby to do another poll and ask:

“Is a drug war the right way to deal with drug problems?

Here’s another example of the failure of failure: U.S. war on drugs has failed, report says
While much of the story is good — it indicts a lot of the law enforcement mentality of the war — it still assumes that the problem is in the mix, rather than with the premise

In addition to disrupting drug-smuggling routes, eradicating crops and prosecuting dealers, the U.S. must confront the public health issue that large-scale consumption poses, he said.

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