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We've met the enemy

National | And it isn't necessarily the lack of spending on the drug war

Issue: "Flawed to the Ameri-Corps," Oct. 19, 1996

Twice a week, workers from the Bakersfield, Calif., Teen Challenge facility go to a low-income motel in town in an attempt to minister to some of the more than 80 children who call this drug-saturated neighborhood home. Most of their parents are addicts, says Teen Challenge director Rod Tidwell, and for most of the kids, including preschoolers, it's just a matter of time before they are, too.

"We're seeing third-generation drug users," says Mr. Tidwell, a former addict himself. "The grandparents of these children were using drugs in the '60s, and their parents are addicts now. We can never forget we're all products, to a degree, of what we see as we grow up. I was talking to a 7-year-old girl today, and she told me she hated men. Men are the source of the drugs, in her mind. I've thought about what my reaction is going to be when, in a few years, she shows up here with a drug problem. The reality is, it's going to happen."

Maybe so, maybe not. But in areas such as this, the drug war is being lost. GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole is scoring political points by slamming President Clinton for his administration's "just say, 'sure'" retreat in the war, but even the offensives offered by Mr. Dole can't hope to break generational cycles of drug abuse, says Mr. Tidwell.

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If Bill Clinton is talking miracle cures while peddling snake oil, then Bob Dole is proposing placebos, and their success is almost-but not quite-as limited.

"I think in some cases, in small percentages, government programs can help drug addicts, but through the years, what I've seen is that addicts are the most selfish, self-centered people on the planet," he says. "What brings them out of it is learning self-discipline. I don't think the government teaches that. Everybody wants the easy way out, and to blame someone or something else. The government programs-even the best-let addicts do that."

Still, Mr. Tidwell, 53, hates to see the federal government surrender completely. There is some value in interdiction, in keeping drugs as scarce as possible. And there's some value in drug education, he adds.

But a surrender is exactly what the Clinton administration seems to have declared. According to Robert Maginnis of the Family Research Council, "During the past four years, President Clinton has overseen the wholesale dismantling of government agencies that are at least partly responsible for the successes of the 1980s."

Mr. Maginnis says the Clinton administration has:

Shelved the drug war as one of the National Security Council's top priorities. It is now number 29 of 29.

Cut the drug czar's office by 80 percent from 146 to 25 personnel.

Left two key anti-drug positions vacant for at least six months: the drug czar and the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Drug Enforcement Policy and Support.

Cut military anti-drug efforts by signing an executive order that drastically reduces the Pentagon's interdiction efforts. These cuts included 1,000 military positions devoted to anti-drug activities.

Cut drug interdiction funds for the Customs Service and the DEA.

Reduced mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers.

Recommended, during his first-year budget, cuts in drug education (26 percent) and enforcement (15 percent). Clinton's first drug czar, Lee Brown, was so far out of the loop that he learned of the proposed cuts from an article in a newspaper.

And most recently, the president has claimed executive privilege and refused to turn over to congressional investigators an 18-month-old FBI memorandum that reportedly criticized the administration for failing to provide "any true leadership" in fighting narcotics.

Mr. Dole saw the opening and swung: "Mr. President, it's time to release this memo so that the American people can see how bad your drug policy has been over the past 44 months."

And he turned the issue to his political advantage: "This election is about choosing an administration you can trust to fight a real war against crime and drugs."

But even if Mr. Dole is elected, can such a war be successful? Mr. Dole's proffered solutions include trying many underage offenders as adults, ending parole for violent criminals, doubling the money spent on state prison projects, and opening juvenile criminal records to the courts and police.

Most dramatically, he's proposed using the military to combat drug traffickers. But his position paper on drugs doesn't mention faith-based treatment such as that offered by Teen Challenge.

"Drug abuse is a sin," deserving of the punishment Mr. Dole proposes, but it takes more than punishment to eradicate sin, Teen Challenge's Mr. Tidwell notes. "It takes a personal relationship with Jesus Christ," he contends. "You've got to reach to the hurt that the drug is covering up."

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