August 12, 1999


I got two kinds of responses to my comments last week on Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey’s efforts to stir up a rationale for more intensive U.S. intervention into the ongoing insurgency-cum-narco-trafficking crisis in Colombia. One type came from a fellow whose e-mail address suggested he was a retired military officer was indignant: “FARC political insurgency? Try Marxist-Terrorist insurgency, bent on the violent overthrow of the democratically elected government of Colombia.” Speaking of his Colombian wife, the fellow also writes: “At one time she saw the FARC as a business. But with 35,000 Colombians now dead at their hands, she knows it’s a very deadly business indeed.”

Alan Bock is Senior Essayist at the Orange County Register and a weekly columnist for WorldNetDaily. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995). His exclusive column now appears every Thursday on

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The second variety was more like a defense of FARC. “Accusing the FARC of being drug traffickers is grossly unfair, and shows that you have no knowledge of Colombian history other than what has been in the US media lately,” wrote one correspondent. “It is the Colombian paramilitaries who are clearly implicated in the international drug trade, operating from the Middle Magdalena region and led by Carlos Castano, who has a million dollar DEA price on his head. The US supports them indirectly, through its support of the Colombian armed forces. In fact, the CIA had a clear role in the organization of the paramilitary death squads led by CIA asset Gen. Ivan Ramirez.” This writer also spoke of 35,000 dead but attributed the deaths to the paramilitaries rather than to FARC.

Well. I had tried to cover myself with the weasel-phrase “as nearly as somebody who hasn’t inspected the situation on the ground in Colombia can figure,” but that didn’t do it for some. I also didn’t pretend to be offering a comprehensive history of recent Colombian guerrilla politics. Still, I must acknowledge something of value in both criticisms.

It is certainly true that in recent times the paramilitaries, organized and supported, sometimes openly and sometimes not by the Colombian military to counteract leftist insurgency movements, have a longer history of direct involvement in the international drug trade than FARC does. It is also true that many of FARC’s roots are Marxist in ideology, though it’s difficult to say how significant that is now that neither Cuba nor the Soviet Union (indirectly) are in a position to offer support. As to who bears responsibility for 35,000 deaths, I’m content to plead ignorance, secure in the generalized conviction that there'’ is plenty of blame to spread around and numerous atrocities done by all sides.

My second correspondent also sent an article from the respected Bogota paper El Tiempo outlining the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s view of the matter. “According to Donnie Marshall, Chief Administrator of this organization,” the article said, “the DEA has not arrived at the conclusion that the FARC are drug traffickers.” But the article went on to note that Marshall continued that “‘There is no doubt that these groups are associated with drug traffickers, providing protection or extorting money from them. But from the point of view of the DEA, we judge the FARC from the perspective of enforcing the law. And at the moment we haven’t come close to the conclusion that this group has been involved as a drug trafficking organization,’ said Marshall.”

It is also worth noting that Colombian President Andres Pastrana, who is reasonably independent but hardly a knee-jerk critic of the US and all its works, characterizes Barry McCaffrey’s description of FARC as “narcoguerrillas” as incorrect.

What might we conclude from all this (and from many more complicating facts and circumstances)? While the DEA (and others, not all US government lackeys or right wingers) probably have a piece of the truth in asserting that FARC has had dealings with narcotraffickers, there seems to be little doubt that Barry McCaffrey is exaggerating the relationship to justify more intensive US involvement. The political-guerrilla-trafficker situation in Colombia is quite complex and probably not entirely knowable to an outsider or to many insiders, who see only pieces of the whole picture.

I can hardly claim to understand all the intricacies and I trust few observers to convey a completely disinterested story. To me, that makes the case against more intensive US involvement even more compelling. The United States is almost certain to make blunders and to be implicated in atrocities if it sends more military aid, troops and paramilitary drug enforcers. And a simple respect for local control and local dignity should militate against trying to dictate the outcome from Washington.

So be careful about trusting commentators (including me) on the bare facts. But let’s be especially careful to resist any and all efforts to increase US involvement in Colombia’s internal troubles, working instead to scale back involvement. And however unlikely I consider significant policy changes in the near future, my point that US prohibitionary policies make every aspect of the situation worse rather than better still stands.


Among the most encouraging bits of news this week is that a provision to shut down this country’s Selective Service System has been quietly tucked into a military spending bill the House is due to take up when it returns to session after Labor Day. It has been 26 years since any American has actually been conscripted into the military, but the Selective Service has continued to register 18-year-old males so as to have a couple of weeks head start in the event US policy changes and conscription returns.

Comments from some who said they were shocked by the idea of ceasing to spend $24 million or so a year to keep young Americans on a data base (or vulnerable to selective prosecution) virtually made the case for ending the draft. South Carolina Republican Rep. Floyd Spence, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the military’s recruiting and retention problem “a desperate situation that keeps getting worse,” according to Tom Raum’s AP news story. Spence, according to Raum, “suggests increased peacekeeping deployments such as those in Bosnia and Kosovo may force Congress to consider conscription in some form.” Republican Reps Herbert Bateman of Virginia and Steve Buyer of Indiana, along with South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond are among several in Congress who have spoken recently of taking a “fresh look” at a military draft.

These calls for a draft in the face of military commitments that don’t inspire young Americans to rush out to volunteer highlight one of the most important positive aspects of a volunteer military. Making the government rely on pay, pensions and possibilities to attract people to the military service imposes an important reality check on imperial ambitions.

If young people aren’t rushing forward to fill the military ranks as full as the Pentagon and Congress’s armchair warriors would like them to be, that should be an indication that military policies are failing an important test of consent in a free society. Instead of thinking about resorting to slavery to meet generally arbitrary military recruiting quotas, lawmakers should be looking at the military policies that inspire such lukewarm enthusiasm rather than blaming a healthy economy.

Even in the post-Vietnam, post-Gulf War, post-Kosovo political climate, I have little doubt that a military policy of defending the United States while declining to play Globocop would attract plenty of volunteers to implement that limited task. And if a genuine threat of invasion actually emerged, no doubt there would be more volunteers than the military could handle, with or without a Selective Service system to pre-process potential recruits.

The interventionists will use the current recess to try to drum up opposition to ending the Selective Service System indeed, Tom Raum's story may (inadvertently or not) be part of the campaign. A letter, phone, fax and e-mail campaign to urge Congressthings to let them know what you think about the committee recommendation to end Selective Slavery would be one of the more constructive things antiwar activists could do during these hot August days and nights.

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