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Bush & Bennett
While William Bennett is busy forming Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, the Bush administration has come up with a new catch phrase that sums up part of its strategy for the War on Drugs. Whoever is in charge of doling out the cute alliterative phrases that mark the Administrations policy initiatives decided that compassionate conservatism has been overused or just doesnt have the gravitas for this heavy- duty assignment.
Compassionate coercion is the new anti-drug rallying cry. Its what the Administration wants practiced by your faith-based neighbors who want to make sure that there are no drugs in your neighborhood, your house, and your bedroom.
When the president announced his National Drug Control Strategy FY-2003, he laid out a multi-pronged plan that included three core principles: stopping drug use before it starts; healing Americas drug users; and disrupting the market.
A White House fact sheet dated February 12, contained the following: Stopping Drug Use Before It Starts: This section calls on every American to play a role in the fight against illegal drugs through education and community action. In homes, schools, places of worship, the workplace, and civic and social organizations. Americans must set norms that reaffirm the values of responsibility and good citizenship while dismissing the notion that drug use is consistent with individual freedom. The National Drug Control Strategy ties national leadership with community-level action to help recreate the formula that helped America succeed against drugs in the past. The presidents budget backs up this goal with a $10 million increase in funding for the expanded Drug-Free Communities Support Program, along with providing $5 million for a new Parents Drug Corps.
Healing Americas Drug Users: The vast majority of the millions of people who need drug treatment are in denial about their addiction. Getting people into treatmentincluding programs that call upon the power of faithwill require us to create a new climate of compassionate coercion, which begins with family, friends, employers, and the community. Compassionate coercion also uses the criminal justice system to get people into treatment. Americans must begin to confront drug useand therefore drug usershonestly and directly. We must encourage those in need to enter and remain in drug treatment.
According to the fact sheet, the Administration is proposing $3.8 billion for drug treatment for 2003, an increase of more than 6 percent over 2002. This includes a $100 million increase in treatment spending for 2003 as part of a plan to add $1.6 billion over five years. Getting treatment resources where they are needed requires us to target that spending. This budget asks that $50 million of new treatment funding be targeted to areas with greatest need.
In a piece posted by Alternet titled Bushs New Plan Puts the Drug War on Autopilot, Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, points out: While the Bush strategy increased the budget for treatment programs by $121 million, it also cut prevention spending by $147.5 million. Law enforcement continued its consistent growtha 10 percent funding increaseand the Andean Regional Initiative, an effort to fight drug production at its source, will receive a $106 million increase.
According to a report in the Washington Times, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Asa Hutchinson told Congress on March 12 that the DEA has obtained multisource information linking al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, to heroin trafficking. The very sanctuary previously enjoyed by bin Laden was based on the existence of the Talibans drug state, whose economy was exceptionally dependent on opium, Hutchinson said.
The increased spending will no doubt be headed for faith-based drug treatment programs. Here the message is: addicts dont just have a drug problem; they have a belief system problem. Getting them off drugs is only part of the solutionaccepting Jesus into your life is the answer. Unemployment and homelessness arent the problem, its a lack of piety thats holding you down.
Beliefs of this nature have a core of strong supporters within the Administration. A recent column by Newhouse News Service reporter Mike OKeefe confirmed that by pointing out that the Department of Health and Human Services informed states in a February 26 directive that state welfare plans would have to include a strategy on how they will include faith-based organizations. The most chilling aspect of the directive is the department is encouraging states to consider church-trained counselors, not just counselors with psychological and medical credentials, when granting federal money to fight drug and alcohol abuse. Elizabeth Seale- Scott, director of faith-based efforts at the department said, We dont want to present the same medical model over and over as if thats the definitive measure.
Theres little compassion in compassionate coercion without a commitment to a massive investment in drug treatment programs, said Gale Bataille, Mental Health Director of San Mateo County in California. It sounds more like a public relations ploy that could pit neighbors against neighbors, obscuring the root causes of substance abuse.
For Joan Zweben, clinical psychologist, addiction treatment specialist and the head of a long- standing and respected drug-treatment program in Oakland, California, the presidents program sounds long on promises and short on its ability to deliver. The most serious problem, from a substance abuse perspective, is that we have inadequate capacity now for providing decent services. If you add more people to the mix by incarcerating more people, that will only completely strain an already overburdened system, she said.
While compassionate coercion, often works in Drug Court situations, which is a more structured intervention, this initiative has the scary ring of McCarthyism to it, she added. Drug abuse should be viewed as primarily a public health problem. The criminal justice system has an important role, but should not be the first or main approach.
A Holy War Against Dissent
Who needs an Office of Strategic Influence when youve got William Bennett and his newly formed Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT)? Bennett announced the founding of AVOT at the National Press Club in mid- March, saying its aims are to take to task those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing.
Bennett has a long resume that includes lots of time on the government payroll. The official bio posted at AVOT.org notes he is: co-director of Empower America and EMPOWER.org; former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities; former secretary of education, and former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Bennett co-chairs the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, with former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and he has written or edited 17 books. His current book is called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism.
Unmentioned in Bennetts resume is the fact that although he supported the war in Vietnam, he apparently had the moral clarity not to serve in the military.
When not on the government payroll, Bennett has been occupying a number of chairs at right-wing think tanks. At the AVOT launch, Bennett named names; individuals who have had the gall to question the presidents war on terrorism.
Frank Gaffney is one of Bennetts chief cohorts on this project, which is sponsored by Empower America. Gaffney is president of the ultra-right Center for Security Policy (CSP), which, writes Jim Lobe in Alternet, has long led the inside-the-Beltway campaign for Star Wars. Gaffney is also one of those guys who show up on the television talking head programs in times of war. Hes been a repeat guest on Hardball, CNBCs nightly talkfest, hosted by Chris Matthews.
In a recent Hardball appearance Gaffney defended what most people in the world think is indefensible, the Bush administrations plans for the use of nuclear weapons. Gaffney called it a program set up by adults to look at all the available options. According to the Los Angeles Times Paul Richter, the plan calls for nuclear weapons to be used in three types of situations: against targets able to withstand nonnuclear attack; in retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons; or in the event of surprising military developments.
Another key advisor is former CIA director, James Woolsey. Woolsey has been the number one television promoter of going to war with Iraq since the U.S. bombing campaign began. Lobe explains that Woolsey, as a member of the Pentagons defense Policy Board, was sent to Europe shortly after September 11 to gather evidence linking Iraq to the attacks. Lobe: Woolsey is closely associated with a pro- Likud position on the Middle East and sits on the board of the Jewish Institute for National Security (JINSA), a hawkish pro-Likud group. On Tuesday, he told reporters he agreed with those who are calling the war were in now World War IV.
Other senior advisors include: William Barr, former U.S. Attorney General; Walid Phares, Middle East scholar, author and professor at Florida Atlantic University; Ruth Wisse, author, scholar and professor at Harvard University; and Lawrence Kadish, philanthropist and financial advisor.
AVOT plans to hold teach-ins at a number of Americas most prestigious colleges and universities beginning in September 2002.
In its $128,000 kick-off announcement that appeared in the New York Times Week in Review section on Sunday, March 10, 2002, AVOT warned that While support for U.S. policies is at present very high, we believe that unless public opinion is reinforced, our national resolve will weaken over time. This resolve is mainly threatened by internal critics, who are attempting to use this opportunity to promulgate their agenda of blame America first.
Bennett opened the press conference by warning that, Professional and amateur critics of America are finding their voice. He chastised former president Jimmy Carter for remarks he made that were critical of the presidents use of the term axis of evil. Bennett also named congressperson Maxine Waters, author of Prozac Nation Elizabeth Wurtzel, American Prospect columnist Robert Kuttner, and African American novelist John Edgar Wideman, among others, who are giving comfort to the enemies of democracy.
Lobe reports that Bennett also singled out Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harpers Magazine. In a recent editorial Lapham wrote suggestively about the elasticity of the word terrorism and cited examples where Washington itself has used terrorist tactics during the 1990s, including the bombing of civilian targets in Baghdad and the Balkans.
In response to AVOTs criticism, Lobe quotes Lapham calling Bennett a wrong-headed jingo and an intolerant scold. Lapham described AVOTs comparison of the threat posed by al-Qaeda with those of fascism and communism as a grotesque exaggeration. The group, Lapham added, appears to be a new front organization for the hard neo-con [neo- conservative] right. Z
Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.