From a national security perspective, failure in war is war with no victory or tangible accomplishments.
From the commercial perspective of the military-industrial complex however, what has turned into the hidden success of the American way of war is that it can be made never-ending. In other words, failure in war has become the Pentagon’s bread and butter.
With U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq, a significantly reduced military presence in Afghanistan not far away and a gradual winding down of the war on terror likely, the Pentagon needs new reasons to justify its bloated budget.
At a time when political leaders in Central and South America have become increasingly critical of the United States’ war on drugs, the Pentagon wants to put out a different message — one that the New York Times, as a government-sanctioned information service, is only too happy to deliver.
In Honduras, where the grimmest social service is on offer — free caskets and funerals for the poor who are getting murdered almost once an hour — the Pentagon’s happy message is that it can help this drug-violence afflicted nation through lessons learned in Iraq and the war on terror.
The Pentagon, delivering its message through a reliable Times “reporter”, is that an expanding U.S. military presence in Central America should not be seen as expanding because it employs “small-footprint missions.” And it shouldn’t be perceived as a military engagement because Americans are not doing the shooting.
Honduras is the latest focal point in America’s drug war. As Mexico puts the squeeze on narcotics barons using its territory as a transit hub, more than 90 percent of the cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela bound for the United States passes through Central America. More than a third of those narcotics make their way through Honduras, a country with vast ungoverned areas — and one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the world.
This new offensive, emerging just as the United States military winds down its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and is moving to confront emerging threats, also showcases the nation’s new way of war: small-footprint missions with limited numbers of troops, partnerships with foreign military and police forces that take the lead in security operations, and narrowly defined goals, whether aimed at insurgents, terrorists or criminal groups that threaten American interests.
The effort draws on hard lessons learned from a decade of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq, where troops were moved from giant bases to outposts scattered across remote, hostile areas so they could face off against insurgents.
But the mission here has been adapted to strict rules of engagement prohibiting American combat in Central America, a delicate issue given Washington’s messy history in Honduras, which was the base for the secret operation once run by Oliver North to funnel money and arms to rebels fighting in neighboring Nicaragua. Some skeptics still worry that the American military might accidentally empower thuggish elements of local security forces.
While there is increasing skepticism that law enforcement backed up with military muscle can ever thwart a drug trade that is driven by American drug consumption, the Pentagon counters that fighting drug cartels is just like fighting terrorism. Indeed, deploying the rhetorical tactic that anything can be justified if it can be presented as a form of counter-terrorism, the war on drugs is now being framed as an integral part of the war on terror.
“The drug demand in the United States certainly exacerbates challenges placed upon our neighboring countries fighting against these organizations — and why it is so important that we partner with them in their countering efforts,” said Vice Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, the No. 2 officer at Southern Command, which is responsible for military activities in Central and South America.
Before this assignment, Admiral Kernan spent years in Navy SEAL combat units, and he sees the effort to combat drug cartels as necessary to preventing terrorists from co-opting criminal groups for attacks in this hemisphere.
There are “insidious” parallels between regional criminal organizations and terror networks, Admiral Kernan said. “They operate without regard to borders,” he said, in order to smuggle drugs, people, weapons and money.
Of course there is also one very large and powerful state that has a habit of operating without regard to borders.
One word that gets no mention in the New York Times article is decriminalization. It’s a subject that several Latin American presidents have said needs to be debated.
The war on drugs has been no more successful than prohibition, but whereas prohibition was abandoned after just 13 years, the war on drugs is now in its fifth decade. The United States doesn’t need to merely stop using the phrase “war on drugs” — it needs to end the mindset that led to a war on drugs.
Any politician willing to take on that challenge will also have to take on a serious fight against those who are profiting from this war: the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and multiple U.S. government agencies.
After the recent Summit of the Americas conference in Columbia, Amy Goodman hosted a discussion on the issues on Democracy Now!