Ever since President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, proponents of this massive federal program have lamented its manifest failure. If only officials would just “crack down” in the war on drugs, drug-war advocates have exclaimed over the years, we could finally win it.
Alas, for more than four decades drug warriors have had to accept reality: their massive federal program has failed. It’s turned out to be a big loser. No one, not even the most ardent drug warrior in the country, has ever been ready to declare victory in the war on drugs.
Moreover, it’s not as if the drug warriors haven’t periodically initiated massive crackdowns in their drug war:
- Mandatory minimum sentences that have locked drug-war defendants away for big parts of their lives.
- Asset-forfeiture laws that have enabled law-enforcement officials to seize homes, businesses, cars, boats, motels, and other property without filing suit and securing a judgment against the victims.
- Surprise violent drug-war raids on people’s homes, including in the middle of the night.
- Warrantless searches of people walking down the street.
- Warrantless searches of cars traveling on streets and highways.
- Fixed highway checkpoints in which cars and occupants are searched, including through the use of drug-war dogs.
All for naught. Despite the crackdowns, the war on drugs has still not been won.
Last year, a 71-year-old Filipino politician named Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines. Immediately, he became a darling of many American proponents of the war on drugs, including even Republican President Donald Trump.
The reason for admiring Duterte?
Duterte promised what American drug warriors have always wanted: a real crackdown in the war on drugs, one that would finally bring victory in this decades-long government program.
Why do I emphasize the word “real”? Because in Duterte’s mind — and in the minds of many American drug warriors — all those steps taken by U.S. officials listed above did not constitute a real crackdown in the war on drugs. A real crackdown would entail simply killing every single person suspected of violating drug laws, including both consumers and sellers of illicit drugs. As Duterte told a crowd on the eve of his 2016 election, “If I make it to the presidential palace I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, holdup men, and do-nothings, you better get out because I’ll kill you.”
Duterte’s supporters loved it. After all, why bother with arrests, prosecutions, convictions, mandatory-minimum sentences, asset forfeiture, and overcrowded prisons when you can simply kill drug-war violators? What better way to win the war on drugs than that?
According to Human Rights Watch, Duterte’s drug war “has led to the deaths of over 12,000 Filipinos to date, mostly urban poor.”
Despite all extra-judicial killings, however, the war on drugs in the Philippines still hasn’t been won. In fact, every indication is that the war on drugs will continue through the end of Duterte’s term in office and beyond.
Two questions naturally arise:
1. Should U.S. officials employ a real drug-war crackdown here in the United States by implementing extra-judicial killings of drug-war violators, as Duterte has done?
2. What good would it do, given that not even that level of crackdown has brought drug-war victory in the Philippines? Indeed, extra-judicial killings haven’t even brought victory to U.S. officials in their never-ending “war on terrorism.”