A hulking drug problem

It was probably unintentional, but “The Incredible Hulk” is much more than a summer afternoon’s escape; it’s clearly a satire, a perfect depiction of Washington’s boneheaded belief that firepower can resolve any problem. Although the creature is obviously bulletproof, soldiers shoot him anyway. They get bigger guns, then tanks. He survives. They get cannons. They shoot and shoot. The Hulk sulks for a bit and then is fine.

Unfortunately, combative redundancy is also our strategy for fighting drug trafficking. In South America, we throw money, military equipment and aerial fumigation at the problem, and as a result, coca growers relocate, regroup and production thrives. We repeat the cycle. Yes, there may be occasional dips in production after a particularly successful mission (the Hulk sometimes goes for months “without incident”), but inevitably the coca growers, cocaine producers and drug traffickers return.

A recent report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime found that, despite billions of U.S. dollars spent on intensive aerial fumigation, manual eradication and aggressive interdiction efforts, coca growth in Colombia rose 27% between 2006 and 2007. Colombian farmers have planted coca in a combined acreage roughly equal to the gargantuan sprawl of Los Angeles. U.S. officials are shocked.

Although this is proof that neither fumigation nor manual eradication work -- farmers develop herbicide-resistant strains of coca or simply scatter their operations -- here’s betting that Washington will continue to help Colombia fumigate and manually eradicate. In other words, it will just keep shooting and shooting at the bulletproof monster. Meanwhile, almost every other government in the region is united in opposition to this summer-blockbuster approach to drug suppression. They understand, as ours seems incapable of doing, that rural aid to farmers is the best weapon against coca cultivation. Not guns, not planes, not poison dropped from the sky.


Eight years and $5 billion. To be fair, all that money has had some positive effects. Colombia is a more stable country. President Alvaro Uribe has seriously weakened the leftist rebels who threatened to overrun the country and who finance themselves through drug trafficking. What it hasn’t done, however, is halt cocaine production and trafficking in the Andean region. Our two main allies, Colombia and Peru, are also the world’s top two cocaine traffickers.

In the grand scheme of hit movie plotting, it makes sense that the Hulk isn’t easy to kill -- his indestructibility sets up Parts II and III. But Washington is now on Revenge of the Drug War Parts VIII and IX. Why not rethink our strategy and opt out of a sequel?