A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
Frederick Forsyth is a master of the international crime and espionage genre. The English novelist burst upon the scene in 1971 with his iconic and defining work, The Day of the Jackal, and followed it up with best-selling blockbusters like The Odessa File, The Dogs of War, Icon, the The Fist of God, and several others. All of these works are fictionalized dramatizations of very real global issues or events. As tremendous as his novels are, in my view, his finest work is found in his shorter stories and novelettes, with tales like The Emperor and Whispering Wind remaining on my perpetual "re-read" list.
A few weeks ago I read his latest book, The Cobra. Published in 2010, it is the tale of an all too horrific reality, the Columbian drug cartel and the world's cocaine and opiate based drug trade. Intertwined with this theme is a look at the network of superbly organized gangs across the globe that comprise the cartel's client list.
The premise of the book is an accord between the American President and British Prime Minister, whereby they agree to change the classification of the Columbian cartel from a criminal enterprise, which it undeniably is, to that of an international terrorist group, a less obvious but arguably credible assertion. This reclassification allows for the proverbial "gloves to be taken off", as the role of opposing the cartel is moved from the auspices of the Justice Department, into the hands of a retired CIA master mind (nicknamed the Cobra), with an unlimited budget, and the superbly honed lance of the combined Special Services of the Britain and the United States to carry out Phase I of his plan. It is an intriguing premise, one admittedly open to all manner of legitimate conjecture and slippery slopes.
Not wishing to spoil it for any would be readers, that is all I will say about the plot. But it got me thinking about the cartel and the gangs that hold sway in the cities of the world. In particular the gangs in Mexico, in whose wake of pathological and utterly wanton violence the bulltet-ridden, burned, garrotted, hung, and frequently mutillated corpses of forty thousand people have been strewn. FORTY THOUSAND - the entire population of the City of Brookfield - savagely murdered, many of them complete innocents. And this not in some far away land, or shrouded Asian poppy field. It is right here on the North American continent, a short drive from countless American cities.
The brutal and utterly indiscriminate barbarity of these gangs has turned a page in the annals of modern society, and has all but destroyed the vestige of basic public safety in Mexico. While it is true they hold substantial advantages in weaponry and firepower over the pitifully inadequate and largely corrupt police forces that oppose them; the larger disproportion is to be found in their sociopathic rage, and complete willingness to visit heretofore unimaginable savagery upon their own society. Tens of thousands slain, many of them horrifically tortured to death, their mutilated corpses dumped in public places to warn others, and to solidify the gangs' vice-grip of fear and power. Ensconced here in suburbia, we cannot grasp the utter ruthlessness and barabarity of what is happening. One searches the pages of history for parallels but comes up empty. While there have been mass murderers and genocide conducted by Heads of State, never before has there been such a wide swath of orchestrated and mind numbing violence from private, criminal organizations.
These gangs are not limited to Mexico; they exist on all continents, and in most of the world's capital cities. Considering the level of violence, murder, destruction, and social pestilence they spew into the noses, veins, and streets of the world's population; and all of the immeasuable societal cost, is the consideration of them as international terrorist organizations really such a stretch?
The illicit profits of the cartel and its clients are measured in the tens of billions, and no historically standard law and order approach has proven sufficient to make anything more than small, temprorary dents in the operations of such enterprises. When their unimaginable wealth is combined with their equally unimagined brutality, it does perhaps, place Mr. Forsyth's proposition in a different light.
And what of Forsyth's fictional premise - this question of considering the cartel as a terrorist organization? When considering options for addressing this reality; it seems there are three choices for the continuation of our so called "war on drugs". We can continue as we have, with the obvious expectation of similar results. Or we can take a step such as outlined in Mr. Forsyth's novel. Or we can legalize these drugs, regulate their trade, and tax the living *#*# out its proceeds.
I think legitimate and vehement arguments can be made both for and against options two and three. But I no longer believe option one to be credible, not unless we are willing to publicly acknowledge that the status quo is not only acceptable, but permanent.
For decades politicos in Washington on all ends of the policy spectrum, have talked about the "war on drugs". And the inevitable offspring of this clanking machinery of centralized government are embrassingly ineffective creations such as the position of the Waukesha County Drug Coordinator. While they are established with the best of intentions, and inhabited by equally well intended and capable people, one can only surmise what the troubled people of northern Mexico would think of such beaurocratic foppery.
And one can further surmise what the surviving loved ones of its forty thousand dead think of when they hear the cavalierly proferred phrase, "the war on drugs".