Back in 2008, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) look into our counter-narcotics expenses to Venezuela — part of a larger effort "to ensure that funding for United States Government policies designed to interdict narcotics being trafficked through Venezuela…are being used effectively."

Forget that between fiscal years 2003 and 2008 those totaled a mere $35 million; the report was more political kabuki than sober analysis of our tax dollars’ efficacy in fighting narcos; heaven forbid our GAO shine a spotlight on the inner workings of our own government. Best to busy it in the jungles of South America, where it can repeat the work of others, and report back on the obvious:

According to the report, hundreds of metric tons of cocaine flow annually from South America toward the United States, threatening the security and well being of U.S. citizens.

But Lugar found revelation in the commonplace, taking the opportunity to denounce Venezuela in his best tough-guy stance:

“The report’s findings require, at a minimum, a comprehensive review of U.S. policy towards Venezuela,” said Lugar

"I would hope that the Government of Venezuela understands that the findings of this report merit serious corrective action. I encourage expeditious action in this regard," said Lugar

"The findings of this report have heightened my concern that Venezuela’s failure to cooperate with the United States on drug interdiction is related to corruption in that country’s government," Senator Lugar said.

Now, I am no apologist for the Chavez administration. Its errors and abuses are manifold; from the squandering of oil boom revenues to support of violent cocaine-funded groups like Colombia’s FARC. But almost no narcotics are grown in Venezuela, and at present it has counternarcotics cooperation agreements with 37 nations.

Moreover, it has legitimate reasons to withhold its "full cooperation" from the US government: most notably the 2002 coup against Chavez – financed in part by the Bush administration and all but applauded in its realization.

With such a hostile act less than a decade in the past, a unilateral cessation of U.S.-Supported Counternarcotics Activities by Venezuela is, at the least, understandable. But it’s all empty excuses for the GAO: the coup is papered over in the report, and Chavez is faulted for the termination of U.S. programs by the ambiguous names of "Wire Intercept," "Cooperating Nation Information Intercept Exchange System," and "Law Enforcement Training."

This failure to grasp a simple cause-and-effect logic is further exemplified by Lugar’s recipe for success in our broader War on Drugs: "The fight against drugs must be won through full cooperation among producing, transit and consuming nations"

So, let’s summarize: Lugar and the GAO’s reasoning goes something like this – if only governments we actively worked to overthrow would cooperate passively in our War on Drugs, then we could be winning, gosh-darned it.

Really? We need to demand better from our representatives, on both sides of the aisle.

Lance Steagall

Lance Steagall

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