KEVIN RUDD had a chance to continue the success of his current world trip and impress NATO with some fresh ideas on Afghanistan. He could have at least given his support to some alternative plans being suggested by several NATO members. He could have ... but he didn't.
Is Kevin Rudd just another US stooge like John Howard and taking the same familiar path?
When Kevin Rudd took office last November, there was some optimisism from drug policy reformists. After 11 years of ignorance and Howards curtailing to the US conservative forces, there was some hope that Australia would join other countries in redefining a more pragmatic drug policy. The statement from Rudd that futures policies would be “evidence based” gave hope that finally facts would win over political, moral and religious rhetoric.
Except for some off handed comments that Labor were “tough on drugs”, there has been very little indication about which path Rudd will take. That was until his recent overseas trip. Rudd has just spent time in the US to discuss our diplomatic ties and it looks like the spin doctors had a field day with him.
At the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Bucharest, Rudd has made his priority the eradication of Afghanistan's opium fields including detailed plans on how to do it. The influence from the US was obvious and the European leaders in NATO were not impressed with the tired old agenda being thrown at them. The European leaders were expecting more from our new PM considering they had made their feelings clear about Howard’s constant mirroring of US policy. The call for more troops was also seen as another US ploy and again reminiscent of the Howard years. Australia has only 1000 troops in Afghanistan and is often criticised by the Europeans for pushing the US agenda without fully committing more troops themselves.
Crop eradication has never met expectations with Colombia being the obvious benchmark. Crop spraying has had very little success and Colombian cocaine has actually increased in production. The only visible results is a country now being run with a paramilitary style police force murdering locals on the street and thousands of innocent farmers losing their legitimate crops to US led cocaine eradication programs.
In Afghanistan, the US has already poured in $1.2 billion into a program of slashing the poppy harvest worth only $1 billion. Opium production went up 30%. The main outcome was increasing hatred of the west from farmers who had their livelihood taken away. The US is now trying to force the Afghanistan government into arial spraying and Rudd is seen as a keen US supporter much like Howard was. The US has appointed former Colombian ambassador, William Wood as it’s ambassador in Kabul. Wood is commonly known as "Chemical Bill" in Washington for his introduction of the Colombian chemical eradication program. You know, the program that didn’t work.
The US could have bought the opium from the farmers and burnt it but it would be “sending the wrong message”. Such is the stupidity of the “War on Drugs”. The other plan to turn Afghanistan’s farmers onto alternative crops has been tried and failed several times. This was Rudd’s sugestion to deal with the locals and the loss of their primary income. It was dismissed quickly by nonchalant NATO officials.
If this is an example of the alternative to Howard’s drug strategy then we are in for a long three years. Australia has spent decades building up Harm Minimisation and was considered a leader worldwide until Howard rode the wave of US conservatism and tried to replace it with a US style zero tolerance policy. Rudd has the chance to now catch up and once again show that facts, research and humane government policies will put us on the map far more than kissing US butt ever will.
The Luck Of The Draw
Mr. David Paterson, newly elevated Governor of NY, recently acknowledged that he used cocaine and marijuana in his younger years. Had he been unlucky enough back then to get busted for possession of a single joint, or a trace amount of coke, he'd probably be in jail now, or trying to overcome a "criminal record" and find a job, or perhaps dead. Instead, because he had the good fortune not to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is responsible for governing NY State - and however one judges his likelihood of governing well, no one has suggested for a moment that he's unqualified in the light of his acknowledgment.
Justice should not hinge on luck. Hopefully, the new governor will reconsider our drug policies in light of his own experience. He has long advocated changing the Draconian Rockefeller Law; now he should push for an even more radical change in how we approach drug use in our state and nation. If any political leader can empathize with the real victims of the drug war, he can!
-RG Newman MD, Opiate Addiction.