TOPICS > Health

Battling Drug

March 12, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Last week, Retired General Barry McCaffrey was sworn in as the nation’s fourth drug czar. A career military officer, he graduated from West Point in 1964. He is a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War where he served two combat tours of duty. McCaffrey was a leader in the army’s transition to an all-volunteer force after Vietnam. He vigorously promoted equal opportunity for women and minorities in the new force. During the Persian Gulf War, he was the commander of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division. Then posted to the Pentagon, he worked for Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell. In 1994, President Clinton appointed McCaffrey head of the U.S. Southern Command, all of Latin America South of Mexico. Earlier this year, the President nominated him to lead the war against drugs. Thank you for being with us.

GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY (RET), National Drug Control Policy Director: It’s good to be here.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is war the right analogy for what you plan to do?

GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, I think the–it may be inadequate to deal with the concepts we’re talking about. Wars are rather straightforward affairs. You have a general, a campaign. You achieve total victory. And I think what we’re looking at is something far more complex. I have found it useful to think of it is a cancer, the kind of holistic approach where you’ve got to deal with not only the root cause but also the pain it causes. And you’ve got to involve everyone in the treatment, and fundamentally, you have to have a sense of optimism, or you can’t deal with the situation.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You’ve said that you’re actually optimistic because of the–partly because of the success in the military with the drug, dealing with the drug problem.

GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, you know we had a–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that’s a model?

GEN. McCAFFREY: I’m not sure that the, the techniques we used in the 70’s in the armed forces are applicable to a free society, and I go into this very aware that at the root of it our liberties are precious to us, but the same beautiful young men and women that we had in the armed forces and have now are the ones we’re trying to protect in civilian life, so we were enormously successful during this terrible post-Vietnam period in addressing these challenges to our discipline, our professionalism, our spiritual and physical health, and that’s one of the reasons I’m very confident we can do the same thing for America.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The President appointed you, a general, to lead this battle. I think it indicates that he thinks the military should play a major role in this. What do you think the military’s role should be in the–I won’t say war–in the anti-drug battle?

GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, clearly, this isn’t going to be won by anybody’s armies. This is a challenge to American society that fundamentally teachers and religious leaders and police officers, treatment specialists, all of us, will have a role to play. Now the armed forces can be very supportive of this effort and are, and will play a very critical role, particularly in the protection of our frontiers, our air, sea, and land frontiers.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you think the main role should be in interdiction, for example, flying, stopping flights–


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: –from coming over, stopping–you dealt with this as head of SouthCom in, in interrupting the flights going from Bolivia and Peru to Colombia, right?

GEN. McCAFFREY: Hmm-hmm.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is that–is that the main role you see for the military?

GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, I think we’ve had enormous success cooperating with the Andean Ridge countries and trying to turn off a source country’s strategy, if you will, but having said that, another one of our challenges is it seems to me this is a systems problem. We really can’t talk about whether we need another dollar spent either in the Shipari Valley or in drug treatment programs in San Francisco. We’re going to have to do all of it, so prevention, education, drug treatment, law enforcement, they all have a vital role to play.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You know, because you referred to the pessimism that you find when you talk to people about the struggle against drugs that there’s a lot of skepticism about what can be done, and looking at, at various studies, I’ve noticed that since 1981, American taxpayers have spent $23 million on international drug control, yet drug supplies from cocaine to opium are way up. Why do you think that you can do something about this when others have failed, especially the interdiction parts?

GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, you know, if we take a reasonably long-term look at it, starting about 1979, we have to remind ourselves that we’ve come a long way. There were 22 million regular drug users in this country in the late 70’s. We’re now down to about 12 million. Cocaine use, as an example, has dropped 30 percent in the last three years. So hard work and resources do pay off. What–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is that mostly from education? Is it known what caused that drop-off?

GEN. McCAFFREY: I think part of it was it scared the country half to death. The dreadful circumstances of violence, spouse abuse, the destroyed families of the 70’s, persuaded 90 million Americans who had tried illegal drugs that it wasn’t smart.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It’s not because the price has gone, gone up.

GEN. McCAFFREY: No, indeed.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The price of cocaine is actually down, isn’t it?

GEN. McCAFFREY: You’re quite correct. The purity and the–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So it’s something else.

GEN. McCAFFREY: –price are–have never made it more available.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So it is something else.

GEN. McCAFFREY: Yeah. But we are seeing in the last 15 years almost half the problem that we used to have. Our problem today is enormous levels of violence out of chronic drug addicts and a very disturbing doubling in the use among teenagers, so we’re going to have to get our eye back on the ball.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I wanted to ask you what you thought the most difficult and the most disturbing problem was. Is that it, the violence and the teens?

GEN. McCAFFREY: I think my gut instinct says that our business is to protect youth, so we’re going to have to go back to basics and support drug education and prevention programs, give people the information, the mentorship to ensure they understand the nature of this threat. It’s Russian Roulette. Gateway behaviors of smoking cigarettes, of marijuana use lead to enormously high uses later on in life. And then secondly, I think we’re going to have to tell the American people that we will protect you from the violence, the property abuse that comes from chronic drug addicts from the criminal population.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think the answer to, to cutting down the demand here is? You’ve said that you don’t think incarceration is the answer.

GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, I think incarceration is part of it, but I think law enforcement is a vital component to treatment programs, without which they can have no reality, and we also need to say as a matter of principle that these drugs are wrong. But we’re also a nation that now has a million people in jail at the state and local level and a hundred thousand in the federal prison system, so we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The President has said and asked for more money and more staff for you. I gather that your staff is being built up as we speak.


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: He had cut the staff way back, as I understand it, in his first year of the Presidency. Is he admitting that he was wrong to do that? What happened? What changed?

GEN. McCAFFREY: I think the senior officials of government came in with a couple of audible goals. One, they wanted to decrease the size of government, which they’re still committed to, we’re still committed to, and secondly, I think they felt that if you want to get at the drug problem, you’ve got involve all the department officers and its solution. Both those principles are still valid, but the, the cuts were probably excessive, and the President and the Vice President have assured me they’ll give me the resources we need to do our job. By the way, I’ve got to go down to Congress now and consult with some very key people, Sen. Hatch and Biden, and Congressman Zeliff and Rangel and the others who have been working this problem for the past 15 or so years.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Can you give us any specifics about what you plan to do that, that is different from what came before?

GEN. McCAFFREY: Yeah. There’s an awful lot of programs that work. I’m going to have to go out and find out which ones they are and then it seems to me we owe the American people and Congress an explanation on evidence on what pays off and what doesn’t. But early on in that effort, it seems to me an initial hypothesis is if you don’t like crime, then you’ll like treatment programs aimed at convicts before and after their release. We have got to protect the American people from the violent crime and property damage that about 3 million people cause us. That’s who the chronic drug addicts of America are, and we’re going to have to go after that population, and I think secondly, it seems clear to me that we’re going to have to play hard ball with drug-producing countries. And you’ve seen some very courageous calls, I think, by the government recently on certification, and then finally, we’re going to have to go–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In, in criticizing Colombia and de-certifying Colombia–


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: –saying that it had not cooperated enough, which leads to–



GEN. McCAFFREY: A very painful decision, I might add, because we’re aware that the Colombian armed forces and police have had 500 killed and wounded in the last year. More than 20 of their aircraft have been either shot down or hit by ground fire. So we know that Colombian patriots are involved in this struggle. Gen. Serano, their police chief, is an honest man. Their attorney general, Valdo Vieso, is a Colombian patriot. But nonetheless, they’re going to have to confront this issue in their own way and under their own constitution.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, General, thank you very much for being with us. Good luck.

GEN. McCAFFREY: I enjoyed being here.