Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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A Focus on the Other War on Terrorism
While Islamist terrorism has been the focus of almost all counter-terrorism policies since 9-11, there are some indications that the long-standing and equally intractable struggle with drug-related terrorist gangs is coming back on to the radar screen.

It is worth remembering that the damage done by drug trafficking structures, due to the huge amounts of revenue and violence that they generate, do considerable damage as well. This is not a debate or whether drugs should be legalized, but a recognition that policy is not going to change any time soon, and this is the reality.

In fact, drug traffickers are the only other economic group that can rival the billions of dollars the Saudi government and wealthy Gulf donors but into the infrastructure that supports Islamist terrorism.

Despite the signs of progress in Colombia, the FARC remains a formidable, multi-billion dollar industry with significant ties to criminal and terrorist organizations, from weapons traffickers to the Lebanese expatriate communities that send significant resources to Hezbollah and, to a lesser degree, Hamas.

The FARC's ties to the Central American gangs and weapons trafficking networks pose a challenge that is only now being studied. The pipelines of people trafficking, weapons trafficking, drug trafficking and money laundering merge into one large stream from Honduras through Mexico.

The threat is not just potential alliances between the drug-fed groups and radical Islamist groups, although that danger is real. It is the that the pipeline is not discriminating at all in what it carries, and most of the products are lethal or potentially so.

It is also worth remembering the havoc these groups wreak in their own country through terrorism-attacks on civilians, kidnappings, murders of journalists, deep political penetration, massive corruption, and measurable distortions in the legitimate economies that make doing real business virtually impossible.

The ripple effects in the consuming countries, from the United States to Europe and Russia, are not insignificant. Corruption, destroyed lives, the economic empowering of the most violent sectors of society, the murders and breakdown in civil order are all pieces of the tab that we continually pay.

But the new front line is clearly Mexico, where the administration of Felipe Calderon has been making important strides. In recognition of this, the Bush administration is asking Congress for hundreds of millions of dollars for a new, massive, counter-drug effort.

Much of it is an attempt to replicate the most successful parts of Plan Colombia (one would hope that safeguards will also be built in to avoid the abuses Plan Colombia has helped engender, but it is not clear that much thought has been given to that.)

The main success in Colombia was creating vetted, monitored, clean police units to tackle the drug cartels and a simultaneous effort to root out the political protectors of the drug cartels. Both processes have been slow, painful and bloody.

In the process it would be worth remembering that virtually every Mexican administration since that of Carlos Salinas (1988-94) has initially vowed to tackle the corruption and terror of the drug cartels, and received hundreds of millions of U.S. tax dollars to do so. Twenty years later the situation is worse than ever.

It could be the Calderon government will have the will to carry out the reforms pioneered in the Colombia police and judiciary. It could be the will to weed out the corruption in the army, the weak link in Colombia still.

But it is not guaranteed that even if Calderon has the political will that the rest of the system will respond. It took years, and many death, in Colombia for significant change to begin. The sooner the clean up process is started, the short it is.

A Disturbing Pattern that Benefits Terrorists
A Long-Term Problem in Need of Immediate Remedy
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