If tough talk were all that counted, the Bush administration's war on drugs would be off to a promising start.
But it's much too soon to pass judgment on the new plans outlined this week because their effectiveness depends on how vigorously Congress follows through on them and on how much cooperation federal officials get from a District of Columbia government known for ineptitude.Even so, the plans outlined for the nation's capital deserve to be watched closely since they could represent the wave of the future for other big cities across the country.
The District of Columbia is being singled out for special attention because, to this nation's shame, it is the drug and crime capital of the country as well as the seat of the federal government.
Under its new $80 million plan, the administration hopes to build prisons in the nation's capital and deploy federal agents to its streets in an emergency effort to crack down on an unprecedented wave of drug-related violence. At the same time, the administration is taking steps to banish drug pushers from public housing projects by installing fences around the complexes and speeding the eviction of known drug traffickers.
But there are sharp limits to how effective such measures can be. As long as big money is to be made by dealing in drugs, new pushers can be expected to replace those put behind bars. Likewise, the lure of easy money also makes it hard for the corruption not to rub off on law officers.
Ultimately, this war can be won only by drying up the demand for drugs. Such demand, in turn, can be dried up only by making drug abuse socially unacceptable across a wide spectrum of American society from the upper and middle classes to the ghetto. Fortunately, there are some signs of just this kind of progress. Now the Bush administration needs to start pushing this trend.
The country can pass judgment on the administration's drug program only after its next phases are disclosed. And in combatting drug abuse among young Americans in particular, tough action is still no substitute for peer pressure - a potent force the government cannot command but must court.