New Tactics in Drug War

THE war against drugs now has a bona fide general, and he may bring to the White House's Office of Drug Control Policy enough stature, and enough personal toughness, to give this lingering "war" needed purpose and direction.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey's first requirement in his new assignment will be the unquestioned support of the man who appointed him. The choice of McCaffrey could mark a turning point for Clinton administration drug policy - but only if the heads of the 30 or so agencies that prosecute the "war" know that the general speaks for the president in these matters.

The drug policy chief needs substantial clout. Then he can marshall his resources - a doubly hard task amid near universal budget shrinkage.

Beyond the bureaucratic challenges, strategy has to be rethought. Some suggestions:

*In the interdiction realm, which General McCaffrey knows well as chief of the Army's Southern Command, put greater emphasis on helping Latin American countries strengthen their judicial and law-enforcement institutions. As long as those institutions rot from drug-related corruption, traffickers are likely to flourish.

*On the domestic front, put added stress on preventing youthful drug use, which is again on the rise. If people can be kept from trying drugs before age 20, they're much less likely to take them up later. Effective education and prevention are urgent, and the economic lure shouldn't be forgotten either. Get kids to "say no" to drug dealing, as well as to drug use.

* Strengthen the administration's policy of targeting hard-core users. Persuade states to follow the federal lead of tying individuals' bail, probation, and parole to proven freedom from drug use. Hard-core users consume a disproportionate amount of the narcotics that flow into the US. Curbing their habit could put a big dent in demand. Treatment, of course, has to be part of this thrust.

Finally, as the general no doubt knows, winning the battle against drugs requires spiritual resources as well as dollars and narcs. Communities, families, and churches have to be rallied. If the general is to be effective, he has to visit those "troops" too.

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