Bush's Drug Strategy

IN rousing the troops for a war on drugs, President Bush is off to a good start. He outlined the problem well. He presented a comprehensive strategy of attack. He told us what he's willing to spend. And he emphasized that there can be no shirkers in the fight. What's attractive about the Bush plan - its focus on additive cocaine and the crime that attends it - is also part of its problem, however. The most widely abused drug in America - alcohol - was not mentioned once by Bush, even though it often is used together with illegal drugs. Alcohol is responsible for far more crime, loss in productivity, and individual and family heartbreak than any other substance. Presidential leadership is needed here just as it is for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. We would have been happier, too, if the president at long last had included real steel-teeth gun control as part of his package.

Quibblers in Congress and the administration are maneuvering over cost and whether new taxes are necessary. That's a destructive waste of time, the answer to which is the same Caspar Weinberger used to give during Pentagon budget debates: Spending should match the threat, not some budgetary or ideological scheme.

This is not to say that money is no object. Of course it is. But when the actual increase in proposed spending to fight drugs barely buys a couple of Stealth bombers, questions of priority do come to mind. And when the White House starts targeting low-income housing to fund its anti-drug program, one wonders whether the root causes of drug crime are being fully considered.

The focus on swift and sure justice for drug offenders is good. Whatever it takes to make it happen should be done. But there are other things that are equally important, and these demand full support. First is drug treatment. Right now, only about one in seven of those with a serious problem gets professional treatment. The Bush plan moves forward on this aspect, but not far enough.

Once drug criminals have been punished and treated for their addiction, then what? Rehabilitation means training and education and jobs, where more resources - private as well as public - should be channeled as well.

Most important (and most difficult of all) is bringing about what Attorney General Dick Thornburgh calls ``a change in values,'' what drug czar William Bennett see as a need for ``moral reform.'' Or as one of those in the trenches, St. Paul, Minn. Police Chief William McCutcheon says, ``We need to change attitudes. We need to tell the young people there's something better than chemicals.'' And make it stick.

That's the real challenge for Mr. Bush - and for all of us.

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