Bush & Bennett


While
William Bennett is busy forming Americans for Victory Over Terrorism,
the Bush administration has come up with a new catch phrase that
sums up part of its strategy for the “War on Drugs.” Whoever
is in charge of doling out the cute alliterative phrases that mark
the Administration’s policy initiatives decided that “compassionate
conservatism” has been overused or just doesn’t have the
gravitas for this heavy- duty assignment. 

Compassionate
Coercion 

Compassionate
coercion” is the new anti-drug rallying cry. It’s what
the Administration wants practiced by your faith-based neighbors
who want to make sure that there are no drugs in your neighborhood,
your house, and your bedroom. 

When
the president announced his National Drug Control Strategy FY-2003,
he laid out a multi-pronged plan that included three core principles:
“stopping drug use before it starts”; “healing America’s
drug users”; and “disrupting the market.” 

A
White House fact sheet dated February 12, contained the following:
Stopping Drug Use Before It Starts: This section calls on
“every American” to play a “role in the fight against
illegal drugs through education and community action. In homes,
schools, places of worship, the workplace, and civic and social
organizations. Americans must set norms that reaffirm the values
of responsibility and good citizenship while dismissing the notion
that drug use is consistent with individual freedom. The National
Drug Control Strategy ties national leadership with community-level
action to help recreate the formula that helped America succeed
against drugs in the past. The president’s budget backs up
this goal with a $10 million increase in funding for the expanded
Drug-Free Communities Support Program, along with providing $5 million
for a new Parents Drug Corps.” 

Healing
America’s Drug Users:
“The vast majority of the millions
of people who need drug treatment are in denial about their addiction.
Getting people into treatment—including programs that call
upon the power of faith—will require us to create a new climate
of ‘compassionate coercion,’ which begins with family,
friends, employers, and the community. Compassionate coercion also
uses the criminal justice system to get people into treatment. Americans
must begin to confront drug use—and therefore drug users—honestly
and directly. We must encourage those in need to enter and remain
in drug treatment.” 

According
to the fact sheet, the Administration is proposing $3.8 billion
for drug treatment for 2003, an increase of more than 6 percent
over 2002. “This includes a $100 million increase in treatment
spending for 2003 as part of a plan to add $1.6 billion over five
years. Getting treatment resources where they are needed requires
us to target that spending. This budget asks that $50 million of
new treatment funding be targeted to areas with greatest need.” 

In
a piece posted by Alternet titled “Bush’s New Plan Puts
the Drug War on Autopilot,” Kevin Zeese, president of Common
Sense for Drug Policy, points out: “While the Bush strategy
increased the budget for treatment programs by $121 million, it
also cut prevention spending by $147.5 million. Law enforcement
continued its consistent growth—a 10 percent funding increase—and
the Andean Regional Initiative, an effort to fight drug production
at its source, will receive a $106 million increase.” 

According
to a report in the Washington Times, Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA) chief Asa Hutchinson told Congress on March 12 that the DEA
has obtained “multisource information” linking al Qaeda
and its leader, Osama bin Laden, to heroin trafficking. “The
very sanctuary previously enjoyed by bin Laden was based on the
existence of the Taliban’s drug state, whose economy was exceptionally
dependent on opium,” Hutchinson said. 

The
increased spending will no doubt be headed for faith-based drug
treatment programs. Here the message is: addicts don’t just
have a drug problem; they have a belief system problem. Getting
them off drugs is only part of the solution—accepting Jesus
into your life is the answer. Unemployment and homelessness aren’t
the problem, it’s a lack of piety that’s holding you down. 

Beliefs
of this nature have a core of strong supporters within the Administration.
A recent column by Newhouse News Service reporter Mike O’Keefe
confirmed that by pointing out that the Department of Health and
Human Services “informed states in a February 26 directive
that state welfare plans would have to include a strategy on how
they will include faith-based organizations.” The most chilling
aspect of the directive is the department is “encouraging states
to consider church-trained counselors, not just counselors with
psychological and medical credentials, when granting federal money
to fight drug and alcohol abuse.” Elizabeth Seale- Scott, director
of faith-based efforts at the department said, “We don’t
want to present the same medical model over and over as if that’s
the definitive measure.” 

“There’s
little compassion in ‘compassionate coercion’ without
a commitment to a massive investment in drug treatment programs,”
said Gale Bataille, Mental Health Director of San Mateo County in
California. “It sounds more like a public relations ploy that
could pit neighbors against neighbors, obscuring the root causes
of substance abuse.” 

For
Joan Zweben, clinical psychologist, addiction treatment specialist
and the head of a long- standing and respected drug-treatment program
in Oakland, California, the president’s program sounds long
on promises and short on its ability to deliver. “The most
serious problem, from a substance abuse perspective, is that we
have inadequate capacity now for providing decent services. If you
add more people to the mix by incarcerating more people, that will
only completely strain an already overburdened system,” she
said. 

“While
‘compassionate coercion,’ often works in Drug Court situations,
which is a more structured intervention, this initiative has the
scary ring of McCarthyism to it,” she added. “Drug abuse
should be viewed as primarily a public health problem. The criminal
justice system has an important role, but should not be the first
or main approach.” 

A
Holy War Against Dissent 

Who
needs an Office of Strategic Influence when you’ve got William
Bennett and his newly formed Americans for Victory Over Terrorism
(AVOT)? Bennett announced the founding of AVOT at the National Press
Club in mid- March, saying its aims are to “take to task those
groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature
of the war we are facing.” 

Bennett
has a long resume that includes lots of time on the government payroll.
The official bio posted at AVOT.org notes he is: co-director of
Empower America and EMPOWER.org; former chair of the National Endowment
for the Humanities; former secretary of education, and former director
of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Bennett co-chairs
the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, with former New York Governor
Mario Cuomo, and he has written or edited 17 books. His current
book is called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and
the War on Terrorism

Unmentioned
in Bennett’s resume is the fact that although he supported
the war in Vietnam, he apparently had the “moral clarity”
not to serve in the military. 

When
not on the government payroll, Bennett has been occupying a number
of chairs at right-wing think tanks. At the AVOT launch, Bennett
named names; individuals who have had the gall to question the president’s
“war on terrorism.” 

Frank
Gaffney is one of Bennett’s chief cohorts on this project,
which is sponsored by Empower America. Gaffney is president of the
ultra-right Center for Security Policy (CSP), which, writes Jim
Lobe in Alternet, “has long led the inside-the-Beltway campaign
for Star Wars.” Gaffney is also one of those guys who show
up on the television talking head programs in times of war. He’s
been a repeat guest on “Hardball,” CNBC’s nightly
talkfest, hosted by Chris Matthews. 

In
a recent “Hardball” appearance Gaffney defended what most
people in the world think is indefensible, the Bush administration’s
plans for the use of nuclear weapons. Gaffney called it a program
set up by “adults” to look at all the available options.
According to the Los Angeles Times’ Paul Richter, the
plan calls for nuclear weapons to be used in three types of situations:
“against targets able to withstand nonnuclear attack; in retaliation
for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons; or ‘in
the event of surprising military developments.’” 

Another
key advisor is former CIA director, James Woolsey. Woolsey has been
the number one television promoter of going to war with Iraq since
the U.S. bombing campaign began. Lobe explains that Woolsey, as
a member of the Pentagon’s defense Policy Board, was sent to
Europe shortly after September 11 to “gather evidence linking
Iraq” to the attacks. Lobe: “Woolsey is closely associated
with a pro- Likud position on the Middle East and sits on the board
of the Jewish Institute for National Security (JINSA), a hawkish
pro-Likud group. On Tuesday, he told reporters he agreed with those
who are ‘calling the war we’re in now World War IV’.” 

Other
senior advisors include: William Barr, former U.S. Attorney General;
Walid Phares, Middle East scholar, author and professor at Florida
Atlantic University; Ruth Wisse, author, scholar and professor at
Harvard University; and Lawrence Kadish, philanthropist and financial
advisor. 

AVOT
plans to hold teach-ins at a number of “America’s most
prestigious colleges and universities” beginning in September
2002. 

In
its $128,000 kick-off announcement that appeared in the New York
Times
“Week in Review” section on Sunday, March 10,
2002, AVOT warned that “While support for U.S. policies is
at present very high, we believe that unless public opinion is reinforced,
our national resolve will weaken over time.” This “resolve”
is mainly threatened by internal critics, “who are attempting
to use this opportunity to promulgate their agenda of ‘blame
America first’.” 

Bennett
opened the press conference by warning that, “Professional
and amateur critics of America are finding their voice.” He
chastised former president Jimmy Carter for remarks he made that
were critical of the president’s use of the term “axis
of evil.” Bennett also named congressperson Maxine Waters,
author of Prozac Nation Elizabeth Wurtzel, American Prospect
columnist Robert Kuttner, and African American novelist John Edgar
Wideman, among others, who are giving comfort to the enemies of
democracy. 

Lobe
reports that Bennett also singled out Lewis Lapham, the editor of
Harper’s Magazine. “In a recent editorial Lapham
wrote suggestively about the elasticity of the word ‘terrorism’
and cited examples where Washington itself has used terrorist tactics
during the 1990s, including the bombing of civilian targets in Baghdad
and the Balkans.” 

In
response to AVOT’s criticism, Lobe quotes Lapham calling Bennett
a “wrong-headed jingo and an intolerant scold.” Lapham
described AVOT’s comparison of the threat posed by al-Qaeda
with those of fascism and communism as a “grotesque exaggeration.”
The group, Lapham added, appears to be a new “front organization
for the hard neo-con [neo- conservative] right.”               


Bill
Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.