Maybe it's a good thing the government is finally calling out the army to fight the war on drugs. Maybe now the American people will realize that the drug enforcers really do mean war, have meant it all along, and will not stop short of killing harmless American citizens if the people don't rise up in protest.
AWACS radar surveillance planes are sophisticated weapons designed to target enemy aircraft for destruction. But the would-be commanders-in-chief in Congress are now deploying AWACS against low-flying aircraft crossing the southern U.S. border.
Most Americans don't hop into a four-seater Cessna come the weekend. Congress is counting on that. Congress is counting on Americans thinking that this is at best a war against an inanimate object—evil, but inanimate, drugs—and at worst a war against those guys south of the border, foreign villains, smugglers.
But something like 90,000 aircraft cross U.S. borders each year (and 160,000 vessels enter U.S. ports, bays, and rivers). In spite of the thriving black market in illicit drugs, no one suggests that more than a small fraction of these craft is engaged in smuggling drugs. Don't be deceived—the drug war is a war on people, largely innocent people.
Congress first ordered the military to begin surveillance in support of drug-fighting efforts in 1981. This required Congress's amending an 1878 law that prohibits military involvement in domestic policing. What had happened to congressional outrage over the military's illegal surveillance of 100,000 Americans in the late '60s and early '70s? Gone. Poof. Violating citizens' constitutional rights against unwarranted search and seizure is okay as long as Congress says it's okay.
Come 1988, declaring drug trafficking across our borders "a threat to the national security," Congress has called up even more armed force. The military protested, wisely concerned not only about the drain on defense resources but about the threat to citizens' rights in a free society. But Congress paid little heed. Backed by an administration that has jealously guarded the executive's war-making authority when it comes to engaging U.S. forces outside our borders, and by presidential contenders from Jesse Jackson to George Bush, Congress ordered up even more surveillance and for the first time directed the military to arrest civilians, skirting the 1878 law by restricting the arrests to the high seas.
Pollsters say that 70 or 80 percent of Americans support almost any antidrug proposal, including use of the military. The politicians and a compliant media have snowed them about this war. As former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger warned, "military forces [will be] turned against all our people—because in a sweeping effort such as Congress is considering, all must be suspect." That's war. Let's hope Americans realize this very soon.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "This Is War".