Fighting Two Wars At Once?

Limited Resources, Ill-Defined Goals: Can The US Fight Two Wars At The Same Time?

Can the US fight the war on drugs while at the same time waging a war against terrorism? The answer seems to be no

As the US pours more and more resources into the war against terrorism, the question arises whether the US can truly fight two different 'wars' at once. The US initially committed $40 billion to the war on terrorism, according to press accounts. In comparison, as Jonathan Kay pointed out in a commentary in Canada's National Post on Oct. 29, 2001 ( "Terror or Drugs? We Can't Wage War On Both"), "In 2000, the war on drugs cost the United States $35-billion -- more than three times what the federal government spent on programs to combat terrorism."

Additionally, an economic squeeze has drastically reduced the estimated budget surplus. The National Journal's CongressDaily reported on Oct. 29, 2001 ("Administration Says FY01 Surplus $30B Less Than Anticipated," Congress Daily, Oct. 29, 2001) that "The Bush administration today said the total surplus for FY01 is $127 billion, more than $30 billion less than predicted just weeks ago and less than half the estimate made when the administration released its budget this spring. Expectations for the surplus plummeted as the economy stalled this year and worsened further in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 'Circumstances have changed radically,' OMB Director Daniels acknowledged in a statement today. 'We must make sure that this is not the last surplus by limiting additional spending to purposes directly related to the nation's battle against terrorism.'"

Yet the drug war continues. In addition to being a major source for funding terrorism (see this article of background information on this web site), our current drug policies are draining resources and causing other problems within the US. The federal government seems unable to protects its own employees and US citizens from anthrax, yet it is taking aggressive action to deny seriously ill Americans of much needed medicine. And some drug war-oriented politicians have used the terrorism issue to attempt to escalate the drug war (see this article on opportunistic elected officials also on this website). According to CSDP President Kevin Zeese, "This will just mean more of the same policies that have resulted in terrorism being well funded while our treasury is drained."

Authorities at all levels claim that a number of law enforcement agents normally assigned to drug enforcement duties have been shifted to the war against terrorism. For example, the New York Times reported on Oct. 28, 2001 ( "Focus On Terror Creates Burden For The Police") that "The recent terrorist attacks are placing an intense burden on police departments around the country as officers juggle urgent new demands: responding to hundreds of reports of spilled powder, bolstering security in public places and even leaving their departments to serve in the military reserves. Senior police officials worry that as a result, departments will become slower in responding to crimes and may not be able to close as many cases. And with their officers redeployed indefinitely, budgets stretched to the limit, the economic picture murky and officials concerned that the crime rate could begin to rise again after a decade of decline, they say they have had to begin rethinking the very nature of policing."

At the federal level, the response may be similar. The New York Times reported on Oct. 21, 2001 ( "Focus Of FBI Is Seen Shifting To Terrorism") that "The Bush administration is discussing proposals that would lead to the most fundamental reorganization of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its history, shifting its focus to counterterrorism and away from crime fighting, senior officials said. Under the new thinking, they said, the agency would give up responsibility for some of the duties on which it built its legendary 'G-man' reputation, like bank robbery, drug trafficking and some violent crime investigations."

The Drug Enforcement Administration claims that it is already seeing the impact of the shift in priorities. According to an Associated Press story on Oct. 18, 2001 ( "Drug Traffic Up As DEA Focus Shifts"), "Illegal drug trafficking in the Caribbean is up 25 percent, probably because traffickers see an opportunity with U.S. law enforcement focused on terrorism, Drug Enforcement Administrator Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday. Hutchinson couldn't say whether the rise would translate into more drug coming into the United States. But he said that like other law enforcement agencies, DEA has been stretched thin since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." As the story notes, "More than 100 DEA agents have been pressed into service as marshals aboard airplanes, and another 40 DEA intelligence analysts are working closely with the FBI. Without more money, he said, it's doubtful the United States will meet its 2002 goal of intercepting 18 percent of illegal narcotics headed for U.S. shores. Last year, federal agents seized approximately 11 percent of the drugs." Hutchinson was speaking to a House subcommittee about the need for more anti-drug funding when he made his comments.

In spite of Director Hutchinson's comments, the DEA appears to have enough spare time and resources to continue fighting against medical marijuana: raiding clinics, arresting providers, and searching doctors' offices. (See, for example, "DEA Seize Files On Medical Marijuana Patients," Tahoe Daily Tribune, Oct. 3, 2001; "DEA Raids Clinic," Auburn Journal, Oct. 4, 2001; "Activists' Marijuana Ranch Raided Again," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 4, 2001; and "Staff of W. Hollywood Medical Marijuana Clinic Protest DEA Raid," Associated Press, Oct. 26, 2001. Also, check out this medical marijuana news update from Common Sense.)

For some perspective, the following is a breakdown of some of the federal resources currently devoted to efforts against illicit drugs. Approximately, 30,000 federal employees work full-time for federal drug enforcement agencies, not including the Department of Defense or Bureau of Prisons. Could these employees be used more effectively as counterterrorism intelligence agents or as sky marshalls to protect airplanes? Such a shift may occur.

Federal Drug Budgets and Resources for Selected Agencies, FY2001
Agencies Total Budget Drug Percentage of Budget Drug Portion of Budget in $ Drug Resources Personnel
DEA $1,443,900,000 100% $1,443,900,000 8,068 full time employees (FTEs)
FBI $3,429,500,000 23.6% $810,264,000 5,235 FTEs
Border Patrol/INS $3,199,600,000 16.6% $529,837,000 3,531 FTEs
Customs Service $2,276,300,000 31.7% $721,595,000 6,675 FTEs
Coast Guard $4,635,900,000 13.7% $636,295,000 7,401 FTEs

The above data comes from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy's website at, last accessed Oct. 29, 2001.

Background Information On Narco-Funded Terror

Some politicians are using concern over terrorism to advance the drug war

Can the US fight two ill-defined 'wars' at once? The answer seems to be no.

For the Feds, the war on drugs trumps the war on terror every time.

Drug Czar enters the terror war with multi-million dollar PR campaign

Information about the US drug war in Asia

More about the situation between the US and Afghanistan

Selected resources dealing with terrorism, drugs, and crime

This is a public service advertisement from Common Sense in Fall of 2001 dealing with the question of prohibition's funding of terrorism, "Is The Funding Of Terrorism Another Unintended Consequence Of Drug Prohibition?" .

"Drugs & Terrorism"

"Drug Terror Link Shows Sloppy Thinking of Drug War Advocates"

"The Drug War & Terrorism: Lessons To Be Learned"

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Frontiers) has a great deal of information on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and Central Asia

Back to top

Drug War Facts

About Common Sense for Drug Policy

Common Sense Ad Campaign

Addict in the Family

Effective Drug Control Strategy
copyright © 2001, Common Sense for Drug Policy,
Kevin B. Zeese, President -- Mike Gray, Chairman -- Robert E. Field, Co-Chairman
Diana McCague, Director -- Melvin R. Allen, Director -- Doug McVay, Editor & Research Director
Updated: Thursday, 16-Jul-2009 09:20:48 PDT   ~   Accessed: 34558 times
Email us