Bennett Urges Pentagon Role In War on Drugs
Washington--The United States should enlist its armed forces in the war on drugs, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said last week.
"As the greatest military and economic power in the world, we can do more to prevent criminals in foreign nations from growing and processing illegal drugs," Mr. Bennett argued in a speech at the White House Conference for a Drug-Free America.
If foreign countries do not cooperate in such efforts, he said, "we must consider doing this by ourselves."
"And we should consider broader use of military force against both the production and shipment of drugs," the Secretary added.
The first White House-sponsored gathering of its kind, the conference was mandated as part of the sweeping Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
Participants included the President and Nancy Reagan and members of the Cabinet, as well as more than 2,000 educators, parents, law-enforcement officers, sports figures, and others involved in what many termed a "war" like the Vietnam conflict.
Held here from Feb. 28 to March 3, the meeting followed a series of six smaller conferences in cities around the country that began last year.
A final report on the conference proceedings is due out this summer.
Secretary Bennett spoke during a panel discussion that also included Attorney General Edwin Meese 3rd, Secretary of Health and Human Services Otis R. Bowen, Secre- continued on Page 18
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tary of Transportation James H. Burnley 4th, and other top federal officials.
Mr. Bennett's call for increased military involvement in anti-drug efforts was among a number of pointed recommendations in his five-minute address.
While other panelists described their agencies' increased efforts to end drug use, Mr. Bennett painted a grimmer picture of the nation's drug problem. "We must face the truth," he said. "While we are winning some battles, we are in real danger of losing the war on drugs."
"While public sentiment has changed profoundly, the drug trade and the drug problem are as serious as they have ever been," he said.
In addition to his call for an aggressive anti-drug effort by the U.S. military, the Secretary said he favored expanding federal officials' authority to search incoming cargoes and mail and restricting air traffic to specific, constantly monitored routes.
He also advocated building more prisons, adopting tougher sanctions for drug offenses, and expanding forfeiture laws that allow the seizure of drug pushers' assets to help pay for enforcement, court, and incarceration costs.
He also reiterated his call for testing prison parolees for drug use as a condition of their paroles.
'Awash in Drugs'
In contrast to Secretary Bennett's emphasis on measures to reduce the supply of drugs, some panelists stressed the other side of the equation, calling for stepped-up education efforts aimed at reducing demand.
"Victory will be ours when we end the demand," Secretary Bowen argued. "We have to get to young people before they start using drugs."
Mr. Bennett said that while he also supported such efforts, "if the country is awash in drugs, lasting reductions in drug use will be very difficult indeed."
The view that drug education is a small--and sometimes ineffective--part of the campaign against drug use is one Mr. Bennett has often expressed.
Last year, members of the Congress questioned his commitment to drug-abuse education when he proposed reducing federal funding for such programs to half the 1987 appropriation of $200 million.
For the 1989 fiscal year, however, the Secretary has recommended spending $250 million on drug education.
Mr. Bennett's previous proposal to cut drug-education funds was alluded to again last week in anonymous, written questions contributed by audience members who came to hear the panel. "Aren't you giving mixed signals?" one question asked.
Mr. Bennett replied, "We have found that states weren't doing a whole lot for that money. There's plenty of money out there for drug education."
John Walters, an assistant to the Secretary, said Mr. Bennett's response referred to an Education Department study that found that the "drawdown" on federal drug-education grants distributed to the states had been minimal during the first and second quarters of this year.
He said federal officials were contacting the states in an effort to find out the reasons for the inactivity.
Another anonymous question read by the panel's moderator pointed out that Mr. Bennett had advocated teaching children in kindergarten through 12th grade to avoid drugs in the 1986 pamphlet What Works: Schools Without Drugs.
However, the questioner noted, the Secretary called for just two years of drug education in the "ideal" core curriculum he proposed this year in his plan for the hypothetical JamesMadison High School. Under that proposal, 9th and 10th graders would receive anti-drug instruction as part of a required, comprehensive health-education class.
"Most kids arrested for drug pushing are alums of drug-education programs," Mr. Bennett asserted in his response.
Many such programs fail to point out to students the penalties of drug use, he added.
He said students should be given the anti-drug message through both drug education and tough school policies against drug use.
"And the message should be this: The use of drugs is wrong and will simply not be tolerated," he said.