TransBorder Profile - Drug Czar John P. Walters

July 8, 2008

Bush administration drug czar John Walters is a conservative ideologue and loyal Republican. Appointed in December 2001 to direct the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, Walters came to the Bush administration from the Philanthropy Roundtable, the consortium of mainly conservative foundations, where he served as president from 1996 to 2001.


Known for his brash statements and dogmatic politics, Walters  in July 2007 called northern California marijuana growers “violent criminal terrorists.”  Reacting to rising public sentiment in favor of using marijuana as a medical treatment for cancer and other patients, Walters in 2003 said that medical marijuana – now permitted in 12 states – made no more sense than “medical crack.”

According to ONDCP, “As the Nation’s “Drug Czar,” Director Walters coordinates all aspects of Federal drug control programs and spending.”

Walters' association with right-wing organizations involved in foreign and domestic policy extends beyond the Philanthropy Roundtable. He served as president of the New Citizen Project, an initiative of the right-wing Bradley Foundation. Other principals of the New Citizen Project in the mid-1990s included William Kristol, Gary Schmitt, and Thomas Donnelly, who later also played leading roles in the Project for the New American Century.

His work with right-wing organizations also included his participation as a fellow at the Hudson Institute and his founding role in the Madison Foundation.

Along with William Bennett and John Dilulio, Walters coauthored Body County: Moral Poverty and How to Win America’s War Against Crime and Drugs. People for the American Way, which tracks right-wing groups, summarized the 1997 book: "In the book, Walters and company see the 'moral poverty' of today's youth as the root of all violent crime and drug abuse in the country. They call for a moral awakening brought about through religion and education to ward off the coming wave of youthful 'super-predators,' members of 'the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known.'”

Dan Baum, author of Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure (1996), quotes Walters, as saying: "The health people say 'no stigma,' and I'm for stigma'." According to Baum, Walters "took the position that marijuana, cocaine and heroin 'enslave people' and 'prevent them from being free citizens' in a way that tobacco and alcohol do not.'"

Walters held positions in both the Reagan and Bush I administrations, following his mentor William Bennett from the U.S. Department of Education to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. During the Reagan administration, he served as Assistant to Secretary of Education Bennett and representative to the National Drug Policy Board. During Reagan’s first term, Walters served as Acting Assistant Director and Program Officer in the Division of Education Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities.Under Bennett again in the first Bush administration, Walters was the ONDCP’s deputy director for supply reduction and chief of staff to the ONDCP director.

Walters says that Mexico will win its drug war, especially now that the U.S. is pitching in $400 million this year. Not only will it win, but Mexico’s army and police will transform the drug cartels from “daytime wolves into cockroaches.”


In a follow-up press conference to the signing of the Merida Initiative drug control package, Walters warned the drug lords: “From now on, you need to understand that you have only two ways out: be captured and go to jail, or you will die in confrontations with government forces or at the hands of your rivals.”


The United States launched its drug war in 1972, when President Richard Nixon first declared the “war on drugs.” But after more than four decades and scores of billions of dollars, the U.S. government continues to lose the war.


As the New York Times noted in its July 2, 2008 editorial, “Not Winning War on Drugs,” Walters declared earlier this year that “courageous and effective” counternarcotics efforts in Colombia and Mexico “are disrupting the production and flow of cocaine.”


“This enthusiasm,” writes the NYT, “rests on a very selective reading of the data. Another look suggests that despite the billions of dollars the United States has spent battling the cartels, it has hardly made a dent in the cocaine trade.

“While seizures are up, so are shipments. According to United States government figures, 1,421 metric tons of cocaine were shipped through Latin America to the United States and Europe last year — 39 percent more than in 2006. And despite massive efforts at eradication, the United Nations estimates that the area devoted to growing coca leaf in the Andes expanded 16 percent last year.’”

Despite the overwhelming evidence that the supply-driven focus of the U.S. government’s drug war has not slowed illegal drug production and international drug trafficking, Walters, a conservative ideologue and an official in the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II administrations, persists in hailing the progress of the drug war. 


Responding to the NYT editorial, Walters and the ONDCP in a public letter published on ONDCP’s blog, “Pushing Back,” wrote: “Today's New York Times has published an editorial that willfully cherry picks data in order to conform to their tired, 1970's editorial viewpoint that we're "losing the war on drugs."
“Despite our numerous efforts to provide the Times with the facts, their editorial staff has chosen to ignore irrefutable data regarding the progress that has been made in making our nation's drug problem smaller," said ONDCP.
- Tom Barry