Usually, the right thing to do is both simple to state and simple to understand. It’s the wrong things to do that require the camouflage of ambiguity, abstract language and outright lies.
The right thing to do, for example, in regard to Venezuela is to buy Venezuelan products, primarily oil, and refrain from interfering in the country’s internal affairs. It is of no concern to Americans if Venezuela opts for a socialist government. Most of our European allies have socialist or semi-socialist governments, as indeed do we. I haven’t heard even a neoconservative refer to Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, federal aid to state schools, corporate welfare, farm subsidies, etc., as "free enterprise" solutions.
It’s because interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs is the wrong thing to do that you get all of this hogwash from the government — that Venezuela isn’t doing its part in the war on drugs, that its president is causing "instability" in the region. I have never been able to get a politician to define "instability," much less show any interference in other countries by the Venezuelan government.
Colombia, now in its fourth decade of civil war, was unstable long before Hugo Chavez even graduated to long pants. We are most likely a contributor to Colombia’s instability, because we are pouring money, arms and military advisers into the country. Venezuela has done nothing in Colombia.
The drug war is another example of the wrong thing to do being hidden under piles of old rhetoric. The drug problem is fueled by American consumption. Our politicians try to shift the blame to the drug cartels, as if they were slipping into the country and forcing cocaine up people’s noses at gunpoint. Stop consumption in America and there is no market for the cocaine, no funds for drug cartels, no money to be laundered.
How much more insane can it be for courts in this country to routinely give celebrities a slap on the wrist for possession and use of cocaine while the U.S. government encourages a murderous, billion-dollar war in Colombia against the drug cartels? I will tell you flat out that if I were a Colombian police officer, watching the way the courts deal with drug violators in the U.S., I’d be damned if I’d get myself killed trying to protect some American movie star or politician from his own vices.
There are two solutions. One is to legalize drugs and treat the issue as a medical problem. The drug war is just a repeat of Prohibition and has accomplished the exact same thing — the creation of criminal organizations and widespread corruption of public officials.
The alternative solution is to stop worrying about supply and levy really severe penalties on the consumers. Put Junior in a chain gang for 12 months and the appeal of marijuana would shrink drastically. Send a few celebrities to prison for 20 years with no parole and there would be a whole lot less snow in Beverly Hills. Instead of squeezing dealers to reveal their suppliers, squeeze them to get their customer lists and then arrest the customers.
The problem is that too many people, besides the drug dealers, make money off the drug war through bigger budgets and, in some cases, generous bribes. Just remember that when it comes to drugs, the corruption is here in America, not in Colombia.
The right thing to do, of course, is to legalize the stuff and conduct a public-education campaign against its use. It works with tobacco, and it would work with illegal drugs. Thousands of people are criminalized for no good reason except a bunch of stupid laws on the books and politicians too cowardly to change them.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.