The Imperial War for Drugs

by Peter Dale Scott, Rowman & Littlefield, 2010

American War Machine represents a fitting culmination to Peter Dale Scott’s work as our leading geopolitical sleuth if, as his disarming introductory note suggests, this turns out to be the eighty-one-year-old author’s last major political book. The subtitle prefigures the theme of the book, which is to contend that the war in Afghanistan (along with several other long-lasting political conflicts) is driven by the underside of American foreign policy, consisting of drug-connected violence arising from many covert operations carried out over many years by the CIA.

Scott is an indefatigable researcher, and to the extent that open sources permit documentation, the controversial thesis of the book is sustained by well-evidenced and lucid analysis. He quotes Dennis Dayle, a former top U.S. government investigator in the Middle East, who told a conference audience that “in my thirty-year history in the Drug Enforcement Administration … the major targets of my investigation almost invariably turned out to be working for the CIA.” The line of argument is that the CIA role in linking American influence to foreign drug operations is a constant in American foreign policy throughout the countries of the global South, whether it be Vietnam and Laos in the 1960s and 1970s, or Afghanistan today.

Underpinning Scott’s analysis is the startling insistence that the transnational network of drug connections is often directly responsible for keeping in power the most oppressive rulers around the world: the drug network, he argues, works with a series of prominent banks to obtain money-laundering facilities that in turn allow the funding of a variety of terrorist operations. What Scott contends so convincingly is that the deep forces of the American state that act without accountability (and are aligned with criminal and intelligence agencies here and elsewhere) are working in exact opposition to the proclaimed anti-drug and anti-terrorist priorities of the U.S. government. In this fundamental respect, the war in Afghanistan — as was the case with other American wars, most spectacularly the Vietnam War — is intrinsically doomed to fail. On this basis, Scott asserts that if the government were genuinely committed to security against terrorism or to the emergence of stability in Afghanistan, it would immediately decriminalize drugs and renounce military options in the conduct of its foreign policy toward countries of the global South.

As Scott knows, much would have to change for any of this to happen. In the meantime, Afghanistan is only the latest reminder that our country is trapped in a bloody maelstrom that is leading to decline from within and without. Scott presents many damning examples of the extent to which America’s allies in the Afghanistan War are deeply implicated in drug operations and receive protection against eradication efforts from the CIA, making American policy completely incoherent with respect to opium, which is the essential source of wealth for many Afghan warlords and even government officials. Scott goes on to argue that American anti-drug campaigns do not seek to eradicate the drug trade, but only “to target specific enemies and thus ensure that drug traffic remains under the control of those traffickers who are allies of the state security apparatus and/or the CIA.” American War Machine brilliantly explains why such a dysfunctional policy is not only endorsed in the face of repeated failure but becomes essentially irreversible through the normal give and take of politics.

Scott never claims that the global drug/CIA nexus is an all-purpose explanation of everything that has gone wrong for the United States in the world. He acknowledges that a variety of other forces are at work, including the lure of oil, alliance relations and rivalries, and the various impacts of neoliberal globalization as linked to militarism. What he does demonstrate is shocking on its own — that American overseas interventionism is significantly driven not by the goals of the war on drugs, but more accurately by its opposite: a lethal partnership between our government and an array of criminalized drug syndicates, warlords, and oppressive rulers. This extraordinary story, with a few rare fleeting glimpses, is being withheld from the American people by the media. With this realization in mind, Scott’s book mounts a vital, Jeffersonian, eye-opening challenge to the American people. In the end, Scott is imploring his readers to become attuned to prevalent political realities. Hopefully, this book will begin laying the foundations for a new politics of citizen engagement that looks below the surface and demands a governing process that does what it says and lives within the constraints of law and morality.


Comments are closed.