A new low in the war on drugs

The Bush administration launches a lamebrained attempt to give the drug war a makeover.

By Arianna Huffington
Published February 7, 2002 5:39PM (EST)

Did you know you are harboring terrorists in your furnished basement? That's right: We've now got to add millions of American kids to the terrible trio of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. At least that's the cock-and-bull story the commander in chief is peddling with a slick new $10 million ad campaign that is one of the most offensive displays of drug war propaganda ever. And that's saying something.

The TV spots, which for maximum impact premiered during the Super Bowl, promote the twisted reasoning that, since drug profits have found their way into the pockets of terrorists, any young Americans who use drugs are therefore guilty of aiding and abetting the enemy.

In one particularly odious ad, a series of fresh-faced young people are shown copping to a host of terrorist atrocities: "I helped kids learn how to kill"; "I helped murder families in Colombia"; "I helped blow up buildings."

It's a Madison Avenue-slick dramatization of the president's meaningless assertion that "If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America." If that goad pushes a single drug user into newly responsible behavior, I'll donate my fee for this column to the president's reelection fund. But if I win the bet, 10 million of your tax dollars will have been wasted.

Apparently, in The World According to George W. Bush and his drug czar, John Walters, the kid smoking a joint at a party is the moral equivalent of Osama bin Laden or Mohammed Atta.

In the single largest ad buy the federal government has ever made, the White House spent nearly $3.5 million to get these commercials on the Super Bowl -- $3.5 million spent not on treatment but on demonizing America's young people. Our tax dollars at work. That's just a minute portion of the $180 million dollars a year the drug office spends on ads. But they've really upped the ante this time. It's one thing to drop an egg into a frying pan to demonstrate that drugs are bad for you, and quite another to link drug users to bloodthirsty murderers.

These ads make it seem like the next logical step in the war on terrorism is dropping Daisy Cutters on America's high schools and shipping teenage drug users off to Guantanamo Bay. With 54 percent of high school seniors admitting they've used illicit drugs, it's going to get awfully crowded down in Cuba.

In addition to setting new standards for illogic, the ads are also exercises in highly selective finger-pointing. We know, for instance, that bin Laden and al-Qaida used tens of millions of dollars in profits from the diamond industry to fund their operations. So how come we didn't see a commercial with a woman, say, a senator's wife, fingering the diamonds on her sparkling tennis bracelet and admitting: "I helped kids learn how to kill"? And, given the fact that 15 out of the 19 hijackers, and most of the detainees in Cuba, came from Saudi Arabia -- where the ruling family, glutted with oil profits, has coddled extremists for decades -- why no taxpayer-funded ad showing a soccer mom filling up her SUV and saying: "I helped blow up buildings"?

Simple. Linking diamonds or oil to terror doesn't fit the Bush agenda. Conflating the war on drugs with the war on terrorism does. These ads are nothing more than a lamebrained attempt to give the drug war a desperately needed makeover -- turning it from a dismal, multibillion dollar failure into a vital front in America's war against the Evil Ones. "Just Say No" repackaged as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." After all, any suggested front in the War on Terrorism can't be questioned without the questioner being labeled unpatriotic.

You can almost hear the wheels turning inside the heads of the White House spinmeisters: "The War on Drugs is a loser but the War on Terror's got big-time legs. So all we've got to do is blend the two of them together and, bingo, no more pesky people asking if the $20 billion a year we keep throwing at the drug war is worth it."

It's hardly a coincidence that just one day after the Super Bowl ads aired, the White House released a new foreign aid budget which escalates U.S. military assistance to Colombian troops battling drug traffickers.

At the end of the movie "Traffic," Michael Douglas' dispirited drug czar crystallizes the madness of the drug war: "If there is a war on drugs, then many of our family members are the enemy. And I don't know how you wage war on your own family." Clearly the Bush administration has no such misgivings.

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

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