I once thought the war on drugs was the United States’ most self-defeating policy – until recently, when the war on terrorism stole that prize. The effectiveness of the war on drugs is not entirely stunted by the government’s own hypocrisy, unlike the war on terrorism. This newer war circuitously spends money on fighting terrorists abroad while simultaneously filling their coffers with funds from oil sales at home. While both wars operate under the fundamental misconception that supply is more important than demand, the war on terrorism offers a more egregious example of governmental ignorance in its ability to effectively prosecute a war.
It is often reported that America is simultaneously funding both sides of the “war on drugs.” While the government doles out billions of dollars in policing efforts at home and abroad in hopes of curbing the smuggling and distribution of drugs, little is done to curb the American drug-using public from spending many more billions of dollars from purchasing drugs. These very funds subsequently finance the very people and organizations the “war” is supposedly waged against. By paying so little attention to demand and treatment among the populace the government perpetuates the very ills it claims to be attacking. This is exemplified by the documented increased use of even lower priced drugs since the “war” started.
The war on terrorism follows the same broken logic. The oft-quoted Thomas Friedman of the New York Times puts it best, “By doing nothing to lower U.S. oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism and strengthening the worst governments in the world. That is, we are financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars and we are financing the jihadists – and the Saudi, Sudanese and Iranian mosques and charities that support them – through our gasoline purchases.”
At least with the war on drugs, there is a disconnect, as drug deals happen below government radar in the murky underworld of the illegal drug trade. This makes influencing demand a daunting challenge – something that would take persistent social intrusions unsuited to government. Oil sales, however, occur in plain view and under the auspices of government regulation. Many of the “enemies” purported by the war on terrorism, such as the Iranian theocrats, receive direct and traceable support from oil sales and the Bush administration does not seem to see this as a problem worth attacking – continuing to cut off their nose to spite their face.
One gets awfully tired of administration mouthpieces saying the answer is to drill in Alaska and other such projects. They sound dreadfully similar to those who say the answer is to support a war in Columbia against cocaine producers in order to end consumption at home. Not recognizing demand as the most important factor in both instances is dangerously foolish. But curbing demand of oil is much more achievable than curbing the demand of drugs. A simple tax on gasoline purchases would dramatically reduce demand in America’s system. Put the possible effects on the economy of a tax aside for a second and realize this one step would do more in the “war against terror” than any CIA assassination or Army invasion ever could.
This ill-fated logic of the war on terrorism places U.S. soldiers in a precarious position. It is much like saying, “We are going to send you into harsh deserts far from home to fight and die against enemies who receive most of their funds from oil sales that continue to skyrocket due to lackadaisical policy. Further, the idea of us making any kind of change or sacrifice at home in the way we consume gasoline is preposterous. We will continue to heavily fund enemies and you keep on killing them.”
Hopefully, the proponents of the war on terrorism will take some cues from the continuing failure of the war on drugs and realize the ability to take creative action on the demand side of the problem. Not talking seriously about ways to curb oil demand, through new technologies or tax policies, is a disgrace to the members of our armed services as well as a threat to our national security.
-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is the Hatchet managing editor.