Worlds Apart - Part 3 in Series

Worlds Apart - Part 3 in Series
Posted by FoM on February 22, 2000 at 08:08:52 PT
By John Donnelly and Richard Chacón, Globe Staff
Source: Boston Globe
The two men hardly know each other, but the gods could have put them on parallel paths. They were born a year apart at the start of World War II, one in Taunton, the other in Quincy, both from middle-class stock.Over the years, they built remarkably successful careers in public roles. In 1996, both resigned for new challenges in Washington.
Now, their paths cross for the first time, on an issue taking place some 2,500 miles from their birthplaces -- the Clinton administration's $1.6 billion plan to fight the drug crisis in Colombia.They are Barry R. McCaffrey, the drug czar from Taunton, and William D. Delahunt, the congressman from Quincy. They are two Roman Catholics of Irish descent, each with a head of snow-white hair, a healthy-sized ego, and the stamina of a person decades younger. Each believes he knows best how to tackle the exploding drug business in the most troubled country in the Americas.Each believes the other is wrong.Welcome to today's war on drugs, where the epicenter isn't in the humid fields of coca in Colombia or the dens and living rooms of drug users in Boston or Quincy or Taunton or any American city or town. It's here in the nation's capital, and it is unfolding in faceoffs between people like McCaffrey and Delahunt; cigar-smoking Colombian generals and gutsy human rights investigators; shiny-shoed lobbyists and placard-waving protesters warning of an endless war, perhaps another Vietnam.Congress began hearings last week. The administration and the Republican congressional leadership both are pushing for a deal soon, an uneasy alliance but one that enhances chances of passage.Yet there are no guarantees on the outcome, expected as early as next month, nor even on the makeup of an emergency aid package.At stake is arguably America's most daring gambit in its nearly three-decade-old war on drugs, a potential alliance with a military that not long ago had been widely discredited due to human rights abuses and a fight that some fear could evolve into something much larger than a US support role.That observation comes from retired Lieutenant General William J. McCaffrey, 85, an English High graduate, former inspector general of the Army, and father of the drug czar."There are all sorts of hazards ahead on this one," the elder McCaffrey said one day last week in his Alexandria,Va., home. "Everyone needs a little wisdom now as you're working your way through the minefields."Much depends on who will be doing the navigating -- his son or Delahunt.Barry McCaffrey, 57, the youngest four-star general in US history, a man who served four tours of combat duty, has seized the lead role in selling the administration plan that bears hallmarks of a military strategist. His idea is to give the Colombian military enough airlift capability to support three US-trained antidrug battalions in a push into the heartland of drug cultivation, the guerrilla-controlled Putamayo and Caqueta regions south of Bogota.Delahunt, 58, the Norfolk County district attorney for 21 years who made his mark with the innovative ways he handled domestic abuse and civil rights cases, has assumed the role of the anti-McCaffrey, one of the leading behind-the-scenes organizers of Democrats and moderate Republicans who oppose a military solution. His idea is to send a blitz of diplomats to push the peace process between the government and the guerrillas, put more money toward new crops and a better judicial system, and spend much more antidrug money on treatment of addicts at home.The story of how each man arrived at his position offers a telling glance into the force of their character. And it indicates how the complex situation in Colombia can inspire divergent solutions.Delahunt, the son of an office secretary and a sales manager for US Rubber Co., has always wanted to see things for himself.Not long after his election to Congress in 1996, he readily accepted an invitation from Representative John Conyers Jr., the 18-term Michigan Democrat, to accompany him on a trip to Haiti. The visit inspired Delahunt. He took an interest in other international issues, focusing in particular on Venezuela and Colombia -- in part, he says, because he saw long-term economic opportunities for local companies in both places.Colombia fascinated him for another reason closer to home: As a prosecutor he had helped send hundreds, if not thousands, of people to jail on drug charges. Now he had a chance to explore the drug problem at its root."After 21 years of seeing people destroy themselves and destroy those around them, it really makes this more personal for me than for others," he said in a recent interview. "I've seen the abuser, I've seen families, I've seen friends, I've seen victims of the abusers. It's such a human story, not just about dollars and cents."He first traveled to Colombia early last year, and has returned twice since, including one risky visit deep into territory controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the main guerrilla group known as the FARC. To date, he has been the only US congressman to meet with them.For Delahunt, the first two trips convinced him that the solution in the drug war didn't rest solely with a military push. The country was too big, he believed, and the guerrillas too well-financed and equipped as a result of the taxes they levy on the drug trade. A solution, he thought, could come only as a result of a deal ending the nearly 40 years of civil war. But how could the United States help facilitate a deal?That was on his mind last month when he traveled to Colombia for a third time and spent a day in the heart of the southern coca-producing region. On a flight from Bogota over the snow-covered Andes Mountains, Delahunt peppered a US embassy official with questions about the dangers to Americans in the war on drugs.Between 100 to 200 US military officials are in Colombia each day, US administration officials say."We had a plane shot up yesterday full of holes," said the official, who asked not to be identified, referring to an OV-10 aircraft used to spray pesticides on illicit crops. "We take fire every day."The official described the routinely risky missions for US and Colombian officers in which they randomly check coca or poppy fields after spraying them. "We go in with several helicopters. We pick out a field, and 50 Colombian jungle commandos go first and secure the border and all four corners. We then go down and take samples and rate the damage. A gunship is flying low overhead in case guerrillas come near, and then we get the hell out of there," he said."Do you have anywhere near enough assets to fight this war?" Delahunt asked him."No, sir," the official said. "Not even close." Delahunt's plane landed at the Larandia military base, near the southern town of Florenzia. There, Colombian military officers briefed him on fumigation, coca production, new types of coca imported from Peru, and the profile of the typical coca farmer."Who owns these large tracts of coca fields?" Delahunt asked."Most of them are squatters, growing coca on state land," said General Ismael Trujillo, Colombia's antinarcotics director.But what about those who grow coca on their own land, the congressman asked. "Sanctions may have an effect on them," Delahunt said."Very few people have land titles," said Maria Ines Restrepo Canon, director of the National Plan for Alternative Development. "And those who do live in areas where there are no health clinics, electricity, or schools. We prefer to find alternative development for them. We don't put them in jail." Delahunt asked the base commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Amor, about cracking down on paramilitary forces, who have a long record of human rights abuses and of ties with the Colombian military."Will you fight them?"Amor stiffened. "If I am ordered to do it, I will do it," he said. When Delahunt asked about the guerrillas, the commander noticeably relaxed, but then made an observation that chilled Delahunt:"The FARC have borrowed many techniques from the Viet Cong," he said. "They have paths just like the Ho Chi Minh Trail. You can't find them in the jungle."Delahunt, the color drained from his cheeks, thanked the commander as his party prepared to leave. Once in the air, the congressman's large frame slumped against the plane window. The comparison with Vietnam was deeply troubling."It's a bottomless pit," he said, looking out at a driving rain. "We've got to be real careful and real thoughtful here."He now had more questions than answers. But two hours later, back at the Bogota military airport, he revived after a comment by Ines, the alternative development director."It's sad to see how people live in the country," she said. "The only alternative those people have is to grow illicit crops or join the guerrillas. I don't know if General Trujillo shares my view."The general looked at her. "Yes," he said finally, "I agree."Delahunt's eyes widened. A Colombian general was on his side.Barry McCaffrey, the son of a children's book librarian and a US general, is possessed with an air of certainty. "I'm often wrong," he has said more than once, "but I'm never in doubt." General Barry McCaffrey talks with reporters during the International Drug Control Summit held at the Library of Congress in Washington earlier this month. (Globe Staff Photo / Dominic Chavez) But he had reservations when President Clinton offered him the job of drug czar more than four years ago. He was commander in chief of the US Southern Command, then based in Panama, and he loved the military life. Vietnam shaped him forever as an infantry commander, leaving him with an indelible sense of duty to his country and imbued with physical courage. In Vietnam, he was wounded several times, including once when he almost lost the use of his left arm."He never learned to duck. He gets wounded every time he's around fire," said his father, who advised him to take Clinton's offer. "As an honorable man, you obey the commander in chief. I told him, 'You don't have much of a choice. If it comes out badly, that's life."'At about that time, McCaffrey also expressed doubts publicly about the benefits of antidrug programs in Latin America, noting in a speech to the Heritage Foundation in Washington that the supply of drugs on the streets hadn't dropped because of interdiction efforts.But in the past year, he has not publicly expressed a trace of doubt about the Colombian plan. He has been at the forefront of the administration's policy for a military solution to Colombia's drug nightmare. More than once, he has been too far in front. Last fall, for instance, he announced support for a billion-dollar-plus package of antidrug funds before the White House had agreed to it. That raised expectations in Colombia for a fast deal, and when no proposal was forthcoming last year, Colombian President Andres Pastrana suffered political fallout.Little seems to deter McCaffrey, however. He travels constantly. He works until 1 a.m. on a regular basis, relying on five hours of sleep a night. His personal staff works nearly as long. And he has established a comfortable office environment for himself, which is to say a military culture.Time is measured on the military clock. Staffers write IPRs, the interim progress reviews so favored in the service. McCaffrey thinks of people as being commanders, line guys, or staff guys, terms with military definitions. He barks orders. He penalizes those who don't perform to his standards by not talking to them for a month or more.And yet he also inspires awe because of his talent for marshalling so many numbers and facts in his mind and his ability to captivate audiences with forceful and colorful speeches that lay out every detail of the complex problems in fighting drugs.He seems to relish the Colombia fight. "What I would suggest," he said in an interview, his right arm pumping to make the point, "is these people are three hours flight away from us. There are a bunch of them. They are important to our economy. They're a democracy. My purpose is to reduce the drug threat to the American people. But I would also argue that we would enhance the chance of peace in doing this Colombia package."McCaffrey and other officials dismiss comparisons with Vietnam. A senior official last month said American personnel would not be endangered, adding that "the blood shed will be [that of] the Colombians."McCaffrey said it is logical to support the Colombian military effort."I don't believe there is any disagreement among knowledgeable, serious people that if we are going to defend the American public from a wave of cocaine and heroin coming out of Colombia, we better stand with the Colombians on the Andean ridge in the coming three years," he said. "And we've got to say it publicly so the peace process is more likely to work than not."Today, McCaffrey testifies on Colombia before a Senate committee and then leaves for a three-day trip to Colombia. He plans to return to Washington with even more facts to support his case.Delahunt, meanwhile, has been meeting regularly with Democrats and Republicans to discuss amendments concerning human rights and more money for alternative crops. He also may have a chance to question McCaffrey."I've never met him," Delahunt said. "I presume we'll meet now."Globe reporter John Donnelly can be reached at: j_donnelly Chat with the Reporters:Reporter John Donnelly of the Globe's Washington Bureau, who co-authored the Endless War series with colleague Richard Chacón, will chat about America's war on drugs today from 2 to 3 p.m. here on Boston.com Published: February 22, 2000 © Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Related Articles In Series:Treatment Advocates at Odds vs Proponents of Force, Budget Priorities are an Uneven Match All Drugs are Leaving The Country Coca 
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on February 22, 2000 at 13:45:23 PT
Vietnami- er, I mean, Colombianization
McCaffrey and other officials dismiss comparisons with Vietnam. A senior official last month said American personnel would not be endangered, adding that "the blood shed will be [that of] the Colombians."In the beginning of US involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War, there had been calls for assisting 'our side' purely with arms and supplies, but no troops. This was called 'Vietnamization. The blood shed was only supposed to be Vietnamese, not American. But, when the Vietnamese leadership proved lacking, our advisors eventually became full-fledged combat troops, and the quagmire began sucking us down. In the final two years of our involvement,in the face of increasingly violent anti-war protests at home and the loss of support by key pols, this concept was dusted off and was used as the means of extricating ourselves.McCaffrey knows full well the dangers of ignoring the parallels, but as I said before, he won't be the one humping through the bush and geting shot at by the indigs. Your son will.Some people never learn.
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