Monday, March 11, 2013

PF April 2013 Drug Policy - Con Position

Resolved: The continuation of current U.S. anti-drug policies in Latin America will do more harm than good

For part one of this analysis, click here.

Con Position

Admittedly, the Con position is a difficult one in this debate considering the world-wide web is awash in literature critical of the policies and claiming the Drug War is a failure.  We need to find ground in the wording of the resolution and then expand that foothold through analysis and logic since straight-up support for the "current" policies will be difficult to find.  Fortunately, the web is a wonderful thing and one can find evidence that states whatever you want it to say.  No one really questions sources do they?  Okay, in our district they often do so be careful.

One of the main factors to consider in this debate is the resolution phrase, "continuation of current U.S. anti-drug policies".  In this analysis, I have listed, in very broad terms, the current U.S. policies but because we have focused heavily on one or two parts of a multi-faceted strategy it is possible to overlook the remaining parts and understand their impact on the big picture.  The U.S. policies are comprised of domestic and foreign components and we have mostly looked at the foreign policies.  It would be great if Con could say, yes continuation of the current policies are a failure but there is no guarantee current policies will continue.  It's true, there is no guarantee but of course as a Con debater you don't even want to remotely suggest such a thing.  If you do, you might as well turn off the lights, shut the door and leave, the debate is over.  You do want to suggest that your daddy's anti-drug policies are not YOUR anti-drug policies.  In other words, they have changed and they continue to change and so much of the Pro evidence is citing events and policies which were set into motion more than 30 years ago when, for many of you, your grand-parents were wearing tie-dye and dancing with flowers in their hair.  Indeed, the strategies evolve year to year, sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously.

Another thing to consider, overall, while the statistics may state that a huge percentage of Americans have, er, imbibed controlled substances, the number of regular users is small.  No matter what the current policy, regular use of illicit drugs remains fairly constant around 6-8 percent of the population (src: SAMHSA).  These numbers are for addicts, not casual users.  Actual numbers are difficult to obtain since users rarely answer surveys.  In any case, a few percentage points of change one way or the other, while perhaps significant, may be within the margin of error.  Because, the rate of consumption has ebbed and flowed but overall remained pretty steady, the argument is made the U.S. "Drug War" is a failure.  But, not all abused drugs are coming from Latin America.  There is a significant quantity of drugs arising from domestic sources as well as a huge problem with pharmaceutical drugs.  I would guess, that even if it were possible to completely seal the borders of the U.S. and cut-off all illicit drug imports, the rate of addiction would still be a constant.  (just my opinion - not necessarily a fact.)  Okay, so the point is this: how do we measure success in the so-called drug war, but more specifically how do we measure success with respect to anti-drug policy in Latin America?  Perhaps it is misleading to think we can measure it by looking at the rates of domestic drug use/abuse.  If the U.S. succeeds in reducing the flow of drugs from Colombia to the U.S. (even if the source of the flow now shifts to another place), has the U.S. policies with respect to Colombia been successful?  As long as the abusers in the US are not snorting Colombian cocaine, perhaps we can claim our policy in Colombia worked, so this has significant implications in the Con framework.

Finally, I want to look to the impact of the U.S. policies on the nations of Latin America.  It is important to understand, we do not go into a country like Colombia or Honduras or Costa Rica without invitation.  It would violate every standard of national sovereignty if we were to just cross a border and launch an attack on a cocaine processing facility.  The culture of drug trafficking breeds violence which soon spills-over into the lives of citizens, forcing governments to take actions to reduce the violence.  When the government has difficulty gaining the upper hand it asks for help and that is when the U.S. steps in and most of the time provides assistance in the form of money, equipment, and training.  BUT...and this is huge...that is not the only kind of assistance we provide.  We also provide, education, infrastructure and resources aimed at improving the lives of the affected people.  The gun battles with traffickers are the things we read about in the headlines, the schools or roads are never mentioned and this is unfortunate for the Con side of the debate looking for advantages.  Another difficulty in one's assessment of the drug war is how do we separate the problems induced by US policy from the problems induced by the policies of the host country.  For example, one of the most criticized aspects of the so-called Plan Colombia initiative was the development of paramilitary security forces in Colombia which are accused of human rights of abuses.  But, it seems very difficult to argue the formation of these groups and their subsequent actions were mandated by the U.S. anti-drug policies because they were not.  In addition, I may give you money with every intention it be put to good use.  I may even give on condition you meet certain requirements, but apart from the conditions, what happens to the money and how it is ultimately used is out of my control.  So if I give you money for college and you buy a few books and squander the rest on video games and candy, is that a failure of my intentions?

The Con Framework

I think the Con must be very careful about which framework is used by the judge.  Obviously the Pro will want to use standards which favor their side and so they may for example prefer a standard such as the reduction of the current rate of drug consumption in the US.  As Con you should not allow this kind of framework to stand since the rate of consumption is only partially, perhaps marginally impacted by US policies in Latin America.  There is probably no reasonable way to measure it that is not heavily influenced by alternative causes such as changes in domestic policies, and indeed, the evidence will show domestic policies are changing.  As the wording in the resolution suggests, Con should establish standards which look to the impact of US policy in Latin America.  Indirect impacts may not be applicable.  For example, if the US institutes a policy to improve cargo screening at borders in an effort to stem the flow of illegal drugs, and that policy ends up hurting the economy of some region in Mexico which supplied the drugs. That would be an indirect impact.  However, if the US worked with Mexican authorities to target that supply region, that would be a direct impact.  Generally, I would expect Con's case to be best served by looking at the direct impacts as much as possible.  Within the borders of the Latin American country, do the US policies result in the reduction of violence, reduce the flow of drugs, result in a more secure and stable government and do they improve the national security of the US in the region?  These are valid and I think reasonable standards for the Con that are measurable and favorable.  Along those same lines, I believe that while it may be tough to measure progress by looking at the amounts drugs consumed in the US, Con can certainly claim victory if the amount of drugs smuggled from Latin American countries decreases or if the amount seized increases.

US Drug Policy Is Changing

The basic idea of this contention would be the Pro is trying to use past results to predict the future.  One may make that kind of argument if all things remain the same, but Con can show that conditions and policies are changing and when the situation is changing the expected results are bound to change.

Valencia (2013):
While both Mexico and the United States have adamant objections to drug legalization, their first order of business is to transform their common enemy: the drug war that is so rooted along their shared border. Luckily, for President Barack Obama and Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, a series of developments across the continent—including new administrations in Latin America, a change of rhetoric in the region, and U.S. gun control proposals—may open the door to change in current drug policies, which have thus far failed to effectively assuage the so-called war and restore its collateral damage.

Another scenario that could act as a potential stepping stone in shifting drug policies is the rising discussion over U.S. gun control. Spearheaded by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the string of shootings in the United States last year has obliged the U.S. Congress to evaluate the current state of gun laws in the country. If stricter gun control were to take place this year, it would curb the influx of weapons through the porous U.S. Mexico border, and thus avoid transporting these guns through drug cartels. According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), 90 percent of the weapons confiscated in Mexico hailed from the United States. Given these numbers, the gun control factor is important in the fight against drug-related violence.

One can not assume the US anti-drug policy is some immovable beast that can not respond daily to the changing landscape of drug trafficking.  The policies are very open-ended and allow a great deal of variation in the responses US day-to-day action can take.  The change of administration in Mexico will no doubt require new strategies in the region so why should we think the current policies will continue unchanged?

The existing policy was already altered from within the term of Obama's presidency. Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative are not current policy.  They are components of past policy.

ONDCP 2012:
The Administration’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy, published in 2010, represented a new direction in our efforts to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences in the United States. The spirit and substance of that Strategy reflected the unique nature in which it was developed—at the President’s direction, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) engaged in an unprecedented consultation process, collecting input from Congress, Federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and international partners, nongovernmental organizations, and the American public...We will continue to counter drug production and trafficking within the United States and will implement new strategies to secure our borders against illicit drug flows. And we will work with international partners to reduce drug production and trafficking and strengthen rule of law, democratic institutions, citizen security, and respect for human rights around the world.

One of the key changes of the new strategy is happening on the domestic side of the anti-drug policy spectrum.  This is significant because, as I have stated several times in this analysis, the core of the drug problem is the demand for drugs.  If the US domestic policy can reduce demand, the entire landscape of the trafficking world will be impacted.  It is impossible for Pro to draw any future inferences under these changing conditions.

Hananel 2010:
The White House is putting more resources into drug prevention and treatment, part of President Barack Obama's pledge to treat illegal drug use more as a public health issue than a criminal justice problem.
The new drug control strategy to be released Tuesday boosts community-based anti-drug programs, encourages health care providers to screen for drug problems before addiction sets in and expands treatment beyond specialty centers to mainstream health care facilities.
"It changes the whole discussion about ending the war on drugs and recognizes that we have a responsibility to reduce our own drug use in this country," Gil Kerlikowske, the White House drug czar, said in an interview.

Strategy Change Is Working

Traffickers are clever and resourceful.  Developing strategies which work require innovation and adaptability on the part of those tasked to limit the ability of traffickers to operate freely.  Just because strategies have failed or proven ineffective does not mean the policy is a failure.  Our policy is to cooperate with international partners and work together to stem the flow of illicit drugs.  Nevertheless, it seems the ever-evolving strategies operating under our policies are now starting to bear fruit.

Cave, et al (2012):
Throughout 2011, counternarcotics officials watched their radar screens almost helplessly as more than 100 small planes flew from South America to isolated landing strips in Honduras. But after establishing a new strategy emphasizing more cooperation across various United States departments and agencies, two smugglers’ flights were intercepted within a single week in May, a development that explains why American officials say they are determined to press forward with the approach.
“In the first four months of this year, I’d say we actually have gotten it together across the military, law enforcement and developmental communities,” said William R. Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs. “My guess is narcotics traffickers are hitting the pause button. For the first time in a decade, air shipments are being intercepted immediately upon landing.”

Another important factor to consider, is the limited number of resources the US can apply to drug interdiction in Latin America will increase as the war in Afghanistan is ended.  This will potentially lead to sharp increase in the success rate of US policy initiatives.

Freedberg (2012):
The U.S. military command covering South America intercepts only about a third of the drug shipments and other illegal traffic that it knows about, because it and allied nations simply lack the assets to intercept most of the suspect boats and aircraft that their intelligence identifies, locates, and tracks. That shortfall in interception results in part from a shrinking U.S. Navy and the diversion of Air Force reconnaissance assets to the war zone in Afghanistan. "We intercept about 33 percent of what we know is out there, and that's just a limitation on the number of assets," said Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, at a breakfast with reporters this morning. And, Fraser admitted, that percentage is "going down... More is getting through."
The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and, after 2014, Afghanistan may free up some aircraft and boats for drug interdiction, Fraser said.

However, even if the US military is able to supplement its limited resources after the war in Afghanistan, the Latin American partners may still limit our ability to be effective.

Freedberg (2012):
But the limitations on what some partner nations can do are more intractable – and any improvement in American capabilities is at the mercy of increasingly tight budgets and a possible sequester...Helping friendly nations to secure their own territory and airspace is crucial, Fraser said, holding up the U.S. cooperation with Colombia as one model; and the Administration's new strategic guidance puts an emphasis on such "building partner capacity" missions as America's direct involvement in Afghanistan draws down.

The True Source of Failure

The Pro side of the debate and indeed many in the press want to paint a picture that US policies are failures which result in more harm than good.  Overwhelmingly, the evidence suggests, that rather than meet the definition of insanity by continuing to do the same thing and expect different results, the US anti-drug policy is responding to the challenges and adapting.  Certainly, given the scope and quality of the changes (the application of more and better resources) it is impossible to predict future harms until we have seen the results.

Mendoza (2012):
One persistent problem is that in many of the partner nations, police are so institutionally weak or corrupt that governments have turned to their militaries to fight drug traffickers, often with violent results. Militaries are trained for combat, while police are trained to enforce laws. "It is unfortunate that militaries have to be involved in what are essentially law enforcement engagements," said Frank Mora, the outgoing deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs. But he argues that many governments have little choice. "We are not going to turn our backs on these governments or these institutions because they've found themselves in such a situation that they have to use their militaries in this way," Mora said.

And the results are already showing promise.

Medoza (2012):
The Obama Administration sees these deployments as important missions with a worthy payoff. Hundreds of thousands of kilograms (pounds) of cocaine are seized en route to the U.S. every year, and the Defense Department estimates about 850 metric tons of cocaine departed South America last year toward the U.S., down 20 percent in just a year. The most recent U.S. survey found cocaine use fell significantly, from 2.4 million people in 2006 to 1.4 million in 2011.

Have We Really Failed?

While the Pro side tries so desperately to characterize the US anti-drug policy as a failure, there is little to truly link direct negative impacts to US policies.  Undeniably, we are awash in negative consequences and for most of these we can recite many reasons why certain tactics and strategies have failed to yield the hoped-for results but we can not necessarily say that the policy to intercept drugs or work with partner nations to eradicate the production of illicit drugs are flawed policies.  Because our ideas do not always work, the policy allows for adaptation and as the foregoing evidence proves, our tactics are evolving continuously to meet the challenges.  But let's look at the past results.  Was Plan Colombia truly a failure when we look at the good things that came of it?

ONDCP 2012:
The cooperative effort between the United States and Colombia to disrupt the cocaine market is a case in point. During the past decade, the United States and Colombia have worked together to reduce drug production, strengthen the rule of law, and increase citizen security that had been threatened by drug funded terrorist and criminal organizations. As a result, potential production capacity for pure cocaine in Colombia was reduced from an estimated 700 metric tons in 2001 to 270 metric tons in 2010, a 61 percent decline.61,62,63 This unprecedented reduction in cocaine availability has been accompanied by
  • lower rates of cocaine use in the United States as reported in surveys of both adults and young people;
  • significant declines in the number of arrestees testing positive for cocaine in many U.S. cities; and
  • historic reductions in the rates of adults testing positive for cocaine in the workplace.
The Administration’s international counternarcotics programs are ultimately designed to reduce drug production and trafficking, promote alternative livelihoods, and strengthen rule of law, democratic institutions, citizen security, and respect for human rights.

So there you have it.  Success according to our framework.


Finally I want to leave you with one final bit of strategy to help the Con, one your Lincoln-Douglas debaters probably already know.  There is a moral philosophy called the Doctrine of Double Effect and it essentially states that if your actions intend a moral and just outcome, then secondary, negative consequences which may occur are not your fault.

McIntyre (2011):
The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. It is claimed that sometimes it is permissible to cause such a harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end. This reasoning is summarized with the claim that sometimes it is permissible to bring about as a merely foreseen side effect a harmful event that it would be impermissible to bring about intentionally.

Perhaps if you run DDE, the Pro will say it is tantamount to conceding but if you feel your case is tanking despite your best efforts to prove the US policies really are beneficial, you may want to pull this out of your arsenal and say, hey, what we have done was well intentioned and actually yielded beneficial results.  I can't help it if our international partners were not always able to come through and if in the process of doing what needed to be done, harms resulted...well, we are not morally culpable because our intentions are right.


From Montevideo to Washington: A New Dawn for Drug Policy
World Policy Blog
Robert Valencia, 2013

2012 National Drug Control Strategy

A New Front Line in the U.S. Drug War
New York Times

Obama Drug Policy Focuses On Prevention, Treatment
Huffington Post
SAM HANANEL  05/11/10

US Intercepts Only 1 of 3 Drug Smugglers It Tracks, Says General
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
Published: March 7, 2012

US Military Expands Its Drug War in Latin America
Associated Press
Feb 04, 2013, Martha Mendoza

McIntyre, Alison, "Doctrine of Double Effect", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>


  1. I really want to run the only-direct impact framework for neg, but see how it could run into some trouble. If I say that, for example, the deaths from the drug war are not direct impacts, wouldn't that seem like I am just throwing it out entirely. I don't want the opponents to react as if I am not taking any of their evidence into account, and I think the judge would notice that as well. How do I word it so that this problem doesn't occur? Thank you very much, I greatly appreciate it.

    1. I am not sure what you mean by "only-direct impact" FW but for sure you can not appear to blow-off the Pro case and evidence. You can question its relevance if you make a compelling case only your FW addresses the real issues. Even better you can make the case that abandonment of the current policies will result in harms which are far worse than those presented by the Pro.

    2. I was just referring to limiting impacts to only the direct impacts of the anti-drug policies, but I understand a little better now. Thank you.

    3. Ahh, okay. I also understand better, now. For your specific framework I believe you can substabtially diminish the opponent's impacts by showing alt-causation for the impacts they claim. For example, the escalation of violence or death in Columbia predates the Plan Columbia initiatives, because there were a lot of turf wars among the cartels trying to struggle for market domination. This is an exmaple of violence due to causes other than US policies and will be useful to upholding your frmaework. In this way you acknowledge the other side's evidence by showing it is not relevant to US policy.

  2. Hi,
    I am trying to run a very simple argument, Effectiveness. I cannot really find good evidence saying that our policies are doing good, may you help me? Thanks!

    1. In order to narrow your search, I recommend you establish a framework which allows you, your opponent and your judge to understand how is "effectiveness" measured? What does effectiveness mean? Do we look at reduction in drug use, or do we look at the size and quantities of seizures or perhaps the fact that more drugs are originating in parts of the world other than Latin America is a measure of the effectiveness of our Latin American policies? Without a definition it is difficult to claim effectiveness and no doubt equally as difficult to find supporting evidence.


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