President Bush Monday pledged to use the nation’s military forces in his war on drugs, telling a Veterans of Foreign Wars audience that illegal narcotics are “a threat no less real than the adversaries you have battled” in the nation’s declared wars.
The President’s remarks came a week after a congressional study team recommended that the Administration consider dispatching U.S. Special Forces to Peru and Bolivia to conduct drug raids there.
Bush did not comment directly on that proposal, but said: “I mean to mobilize all our resources, wage this war on all fronts. We’re going to combat drug abuse with education, treatment, enforcement and, yes, interdiction--and, yes, with our nation’s armed services.”
Specifically how the Administration will attack the drug problem has been the subject of growing speculation in government. Bush’s designated “drug czar,” William J. Bennett, has six months to outline his plan, and so far has been reluctant to sketch out possible initiatives until he completes his research on the problem and available resources.
Front-line use of the Pentagon’s forces in the anti-drug effort has been the focus of particular controversy. Congress last year directed the military to get more involved in drug interdiction but its possible participation in raids in Latin America has raised serious concerns about U.S. interference with other nations’ sovereignty.
Bush told the VFW officials, meeting at a conference here, that he would consider using military forces to intercept U.S.-bound drug shipments “when that prudently can be done and when that’s what it takes” to disrupt trafficking.
“We are going to have to go all out,” he said. “We need to break the deadly grip of drugs and prevent the drug source from taking hold.”
As the President spoke, Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh and John C. Lawn, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, were traveling to Bolivia for meetings with government leaders and justice ministers there and in Peru and Colombia. They are due back in Washington Thursday night and are to report to Bush Friday on Latin American efforts to counter the drug export business in the region.
Bush was expected to continue to focus attention on the anti-drug campaign on a trip today to Delaware and Pennsylvania, but the trip was canceled because of bad weather.
“The notion that America is a nation at peace is only partly true, as long as the violence and destructive power of drugs assault our communities,” Bush said.
He told the 2.3-million-member veterans organization: “You’ve fought for your nation once, and your nation needs you again. I want to enlist you in the anti-drug campaign. Meet with other leaders in your community--church, clergy, law enforcement officers. Go to the schools . . . speak to your state and local elected officials. Urge them to make the passage of strong anti-drug legislation a priority.”
In directly attacking drug smuggling and production abroad, the DEA has been responsible for most major investigations and raids. The military has had a limited role in the drug war, including the deployment of Navy anti-submarine warfare aircraft over the Caribbean to spot suspicious vessels and relay information to patrolling civilian agents.
In addition, U.S. Army helicopters have been used to carry Bolivian troops into the jungle to destroy laboratories that turn coca leaves into cocaine.