The Drug War is the Other War Bush-Era Neocons Can't Quit


You've likely seen former Vice President Dick Cheney defending failed U.S. efforts in Iraq. He's been hitting the TV shows and the op-ed pages with his daughter to argue that Iraq was going super-well until President Obama screwed things up by leaving that country on the timetable put into place by…George W. Bush.

Yeah, well, as I write in a new column at The Daily Beast:

It turns out that Dick Cheney isn't the only Bush administration muckety-muck still fighting the last war.

Even as the former vice-president took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to blame Barack Obama for the deteriorating situation in Iraq, George W. Bush's drug czar, John P. Walters, is arguing in Politico that no, really, victory in the war on drugs is just around the corner. We've just got to hold the line, don't you see, especially against Barack Obama, "whose administration has facilitated marijuana legalization" despite also setting a record for federal raids against medical pot dispensaries in California.

More important, insists Walters, is that you understand "Why Libertarians Are Wrong About Drugs."

The short version: Currently illegal drugs are uniquely addictive and destructive of individual autonomy. If they were legalized, we would become addicts incapable of the very sort of personal responsibility upon which libertarianism is predicated.

It's nice that a former drug czar is so invested in libertarian philosophy that he's looking out for its future. It goes without saying that Walters has no idea of what he's talking about whether he's discussing classical liberalism or the effects of drugs on people or even basic drug policy (yes, he immediately leaps from legalized pot in two states to legalized heroin everywhere and drums up the specter of a heroin-addict voter bloc: "all heroin users, compelled by their disease to support a particular political candidate?"). In any case, he pleads, if you think drug prohibition is bad, just wait until you see drug legalization! To which I respond:

What exactly will replace prohibition? When it comes to pot, we've got two states—and the country of Uruguay–exploring options right now. When it comes to wider-ranging experiments, we've got countries such as Portugal, which decriminalized drugs a dozen years ago and has had strongly positive results. And we've got our own imperfect repeal of alcohol prohibition to learn from.

Exactly what a more libertarian America—one in which adults are allowed to modulate their moods more freely–will look like is anybody's guess. But just about anything would be preferable to a decades-old drug war that has spent trillions of dollars, locked up millions of people, warped American foreign policy, shredded the Constitution, and stolen time from K-12 classrooms. Only battle-fatigued drug warriors like John Walters can't see that.

Read the whole column.

Jacob Sullum discussed Walters' op-ed here.