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A Four-Star Approach To Curbing Drug Use


By Faye BowersStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 7, 1996


The man who trapped Saddam Hussein's elite troops in the Gulf war and helped rid America's military of its drug problem in the late 1970s now finds himself in the eye of a raging political storm in the US.

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Republican Bob Dole and President Clinton are waging an escalating campaign battle over who is responsible for the rise in drug use among America's teens. Trying to stay out of the political crossfire and keep his eye on the problem of curbing drugs is Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Mr. Clinton's drug czar.

In a recent interview, the retired four-star general laid out his plans for maintaining a bipartisan approach and attacking drug use in the US. Although he does not like to refer to his effort as a "war on drugs," he has a battle plan and a clear objective: "Motivate America's youths to reject illegal drugs and substance abuse."

"McCaffrey's a guy to get the job done if it can be done," says Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, who served as commander of US troops in the Gulf. "He had one of the toughest and most dangerous missions in Desert Storm [leading a 'left hook' attack across the Euphrates River valley and trapping the Iraqi Republican Guards]. I gave it to him because I knew he was a great commander. You give him broad guidance, let him take the bit and run with it. He's going to get the job done."

McCaffrey, a highly decorated officer who also served two tours in Vietnam and was commander in chief of the Southern Command in Panama, draws on his military education and experiences. Certainly, he knows the enemy, spouting statistics on drug use, production, amounts confiscated, and programs that work, with barely a breath in between. Now, in the face of statistics showing a rise in teen drug use throughout the Clinton presidency, McCaffrey is working to rally America and lay out steps for achieving his goals.

Man with a mission

McCaffrey wears the civilian uniform of a suit and tie, but his close-cropped hair and staccato speech reflect a military grounding. Over and over, he pounds home the importance of education and prevention. His two-pronged approach is to direct such efforts at sixth graders and to develop better drug-treatment and aftercare programs for prisoners.

But "you have to do all of it," McCaffrey says. "You have to have a long-term focus of a decade or so. You have to do air, land, and sea frontier interdiction. You have to go to places like Bolivia and Burma - and, oh, by the way - Kentucky, Oregon, and Iowa to drive down methamphetamines, marijuana, PCP, and other drugs. They're complementary, not alternative, programs."

Above all, says the former general, you have to get the American people behind you. He argues that's how "we got out of the dreadful shape we were in in the 1970s, when we had 24 million Americans a month regularly using drugs instead of 12 million, which is the current case."

McCaffrey points to the way the military cleaned up its drug problem. "We were on the verge of being incapable of defending the country at the low point in 1973. By 1981, we had come out of it."

He says about one-third of military personnel were regularly using drugs, and another one-third would if they could get their hands on it. "Its impact on professionalism, on racism, gang rape, our health, and our spiritual strength was devastating."