WaPo | Russia believes that its heroin problem was caused, even perhaps intentionally, by the United States with the destabilization of Afghanistan. But Russia can also surely see that the war on drugs is weakening the United States. Every year Americans of all races collectively spend $100 billion to buy illegal drugs. As a country, we then bear costs of roughly $100 billion a year from fighting the crime related to illegal drugs and from the loss to productivity caused by incarceration. Our national defense budget, by way of contrast, is $600 billion a year. If you want a competitor to be thrown off focus by a distraction, a project that drains its resources at this scale annually would seem welcome.
Then there is the social division spawned by the war on drugs. The burdens of mass incarceration and the increased capacity of the police for violence have fallen most heavily on African Americans and Latinos, despite the equal-opportunity use of drugs by whites, blacks and Latinos. The combined impact of racial disparities in mass incarceration and in the application of police force has now, in 2016, brought about the most severe racial split that our country has seen in a long time.
This racial division isn’t merely depressing and dispiriting. It isn’t merely material for politicians from either party to exploit. It also weakens us as a country. Any country where citizens are engaged in intense conflict and controversy among themselves has a reduced capacity to play an impactful role in the world. What the war on drugs has done to us is good news for Russia.
And here it is worth remembering that “law-and-order” Donald Trump would double down. When Trump invokes his mighty wall on the Mexican border, he often extols as a virtue that it will keep the drugs out. Every time I hear crowds chant, “Build the wall,” I can’t help but think about the all the tunnels that international drug traffickers have already constructed underneath our border. A Trump wall would go up; the web of drug tunnels would go under.
At this point, our situation is already crystal clear. The drug war is not solving the problems of either addiction or crime. It is, however, tearing our social fabric, and that weakens us as a country, including within the geopolitical order. Trump and Putin are on the same page here. With regard to the war on drugs, they are aligned in pursuing a policy that makes America weaker.