The never-ending story of America's war on ‘terror’ and ‘drugs’ goes on, even as the villains change

The US should look inwards to see progress in these limitless conflicts

Share

The end is near for two of America’s enemies, or so it would seem. Last week saw the arrest of Joaquin Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, and the “most-wanted criminal in the post-Bin Laden world”, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile away from the Mexican hinterland, and in the not-entirely-post-Bin Laden world, Barack Obama was debating whether or not America would assassinate by drone a US citizen prominent in the ranks of al-Qa’ida.

Two end points in sight. And yet, try as anyone might to focus on each case locally, attention is inevitably yanked past the snatching of El Chapo or possible obliteration of ‘Abdullah al-Shami’, to the wider, bleaker horizon, which is unchanged: the US is still enmeshed in wars – on ‘terror’ and ‘drugs’ – that are by definition limitless, and will only end when America itself decides to turn tail.

Detail on Guzman’s arrest presents that conclusion in bold type. US and Mexican authorities have called it a landmark case, but like the narco tunnels that undermine the US-Mexico border, look underneath the official statements and the ground is less certain. Even if a Mexican prison can hold Guzman – and it didn’t in 2001, when he escaped from a maximum-security facility – the Sinaloa cartel will keep supplying the world with drugs. “The business can run itself,” said an expert in transnational crime. “If the CEO of McDonald’s was arrested today, you could still buy a hamburger in Tokyo tomorrow.”

Much of the violence of America’s wars on ‘drugs’ and ‘terror’ is outsourced – out of sight to US citizens - but the homegrown forces that drive these conflicts rear up when one examines the fate of El Chapo and al-Shami. It is, as Hillary Clinton acknowledged, America’s "insatiable demand for illegal drugs" that lines the coffers of Guzman, one of 18 Mexican billionaires. So long as the terrifying murder-rate further down the drug supply chain stays south of Texas, change will be slow in coming, reflected George Schultz, a former secretary of state convinced of the drug war’s futility. (More people are killed each year in tiny Honduras than the entirety of Europe.)

Al-Shami’s story also starts in America, though the White House has not revealed where he was born. Obama said last year that he does not want to live in a state of ‘perpetual war’ with al-Qa’ida. The possible killing of a US citizen-turned-militant should turn the President’s mind to those words once more - though how far assassinating someone born in America differs from doing the same to someone born in Pakistan should also give him pause. Ending the ‘war’ on terror would take less of this kind of ‘death from above’ – that ‘above’ signifying the oversight of the public as much as the heads of its victims.

Al-Qa’ida will not stop fighting, but America can handle that risk in different ways (with greater emphasis on intelligence, law enforcement and diplomacy). Nor will Americans stop desiring drugs, so once again public policy should adapt – to regulation, education and addict support, as is already happening with marijuana in Washington and Colorado. The final option, of course, is for the US to march on with its precision-less, scattergun approach and keep locking up Guzmans and killing Al-Shamis for another century or two.

READ MORE:
‘We want Shorty freed’: Why Mexico’s most feared drug lord is still a hero back home
Archie Bland: A lethal ignorance - We could make drugs safer. We choose not to

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Environmental Account Manager - Remote Working

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Support / IT Sales / Graduate Sales / Trainee

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has now arisen for a Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Administration Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued growth an exce...

Recruitment Genius: Service Manager

£37000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s Director of Communications  

i Editor's Letter: Poultry excuses from chicken spin doctors

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Women come back from the fields to sell vegetables at a market in Bangui, Central African Republic  

International Women's Day: Africa's women need to believe in themselves and start leading the way

Sylvia Bongo Ondimba
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable