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Here's the dope on the newly nominated drug czar, General
Barry McCaffrey: He's wired.
McCaffrey, nominated for the position by President Clinton
during his State of the Union speech, is well-versed in the
use of electronic mail and computer conferencing. He built
up his cyberspace chops during the late '80s while
participating in a tony executive management program run by
the now defunct Western Behavioral Sciences Institute of La
WBSI ran a two-year program that drew an international cast
of characters, including influential business executives,
millionaires and billionaires, high-level government
employees from the US and abroad, celebs (Marlon Brando and
Michael Crichton are alums), and a sprinkling of military
officers, McCaffrey among them. The price was not for the
squeamish: a cool US$25,000.
McCaffrey was an active participant. I know this firsthand
because he absolutely torched me during a weeklong series of
electronic exchanges in an open electronic forum. (I was
participating by virtue of providing a customized news
service for the group.) During a conference on risk
management, I did a core dump of information I'd gathered
while researching an article on government spending on
biotechnology research. I'd discovered that the Pentagon was
quietly buying up university biotech researchers, through
hefty government grants, to work on such projects as a
genetically rigged version of the anthrax virus that would
have no known antidote.
McCaffrey went ballistic at the findings. He denounced me as
a communist and asked, "Did your mother wear red combat
boots?" Not exactly behavior becoming an officer and a
Though toasted by the flame, I held my ground. "Prove me
wrong," I answered. He put two majors to work researching my
claims. A week later, McCaffrey was back with an olive
branch in place of the flamethrower.
He admitted that the Pentagon was indeed pouring huge sums
of money into university-sponsored biotech research. He
apologized for everything, including the remarks about Mom.
His public mea culpa cemented a friendship that has endured.
Now he has been thrust into an impossible job: drug czar.
His charge is to win the unwinnable war.
He is no stranger to war, having served in Vietnam and most
recently in the Gulf War. And he's not a bureaucrat in the
same vein as Colin Powell, though he did serve as Powell's
right-hand man when Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff. McCaffrey's current job is heading up the US
Southern Command, which operates in Latin America, providing
military cover for US interests, including drug-interdiction
McCaffrey, as shown above, is outspoken. He never shies from
confrontation. And in the constellation of egos that swirl
in the rarified air of four-stars, his ability to cut
through political bullshit is equally rare. In nominating
McCaffrey, Clinton said, "He has spent his military career
engaged in coordinated campaigns that are directed toward
solutions and winning. He will not tolerate bureaucratic
turf wars or grandstanding on this critical issue."
In other words: This time it really is a war on drugs.
But as much as I admire McCaffrey's candor and honesty, his
elevation to drug czar (he has yet to be confirmed, but
trust me, this nomination is a slam-dunk) is troubling.
In assuming the drug-czar duties, McCaffrey will be forced
to end abruptly a stellar military career. Federal law bars
military officers from civilian law enforcement. And while
this White House has held to the letter of that law, it has
increasingly blurred it. McCaffrey's nomination does nothing
to buff what is supposed to be a bright shining line.
McCaffrey may divorce himself from the military, but he will
not divorce himself from his own internal compass nor his
closest advisors, and both are military-based. He believes
that the military should be more involved in drug policy and
has said so publicly. Beneath that thinking is a darker
Last year, McCaffrey drafted a blueprint for winning the war
on drugs. Under his classified plan, which was revealed by
The Dallas Morning News, the military would coordinate and
honcho the US effort in Latin America. Apparently, McCaffrey
drafted the plan on his own and then began to circulate it
for comments. Other agencies with a stake in this bogus drug
war waded in. The Morning News reported that the plan "drew
the wrath of civilian agencies from the Drug Enforcement
Administration to the CIA.... The proposal quietly died."
As drug czar, McCaffrey deals from a position of strength,
or at least perceived strength. However, this high-profile
position isn't likely to carry much weight. It's more likely
that he'll find himself castrated, too busy fighting insider
turf battles with the DEA and the CIA as he pushes for more
military participation. And important policy issues, such as
the need for a real dialog about the decriminalization of
drugs, will get lost in all that noise.
So don't bogart the job, Barry. I'd like to wish you well,
but this is one war you're destined to lose....
[Brock N. Meeks]
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