General Attacks "Anemic" US Drug War Effort

By Will Godfrey 09/26/11

The former Drug Czar, General Barry McCaffrey, says the US must wake up to the war on its southern border.

Retired US army General and former Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey has issued a scathing TV attack on the government for failing to take the drug war raging on the Mexican border seriously enough: "Such an anemic level of effort to protect our southern frontier," he said, shows that, "We don't understand the priorities for American security." Speaking to NBC, he painted a vivid picture of the US-side impact of a struggle that has claimed an estimated 40,000 lives since December 2006: "We are under absolute assault from across the border. Ranchers are intimidated, law enforcement is routinely shot at." McCaffrey, 68, who was made Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy by President Bill Clinton in 1996—a position he held for five years after his retirement from the army—added that an "extremely serious" situation is getting worse. But he fears, "we're in denial." He describes the cartels' establishment of what he calls, "a sanitary corridor, one county deep," along the American side of the border, where gangs now feel safe to distribute drugs and attack law enforcement at will. And the drug lords' influence has encroached further than that: "There is no question that the dominant organized crime activity in the US now, in over 200 cities, are Mexican cartels." McCaffrey is highly critical of the US government's attempts simply to "minimize" the problem. He calls for a reassessment of priorities, highlighting the huge disparity in funding for a war being conducted in the US itself, compared with the one thousands of miles away in Afghanistan: "Our Merida initiative—our cooperation with Mexico—is essentially $1.3 billion over three years. The burn-rate of dollars in Afghanistan is $10 billion a month."

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.