Time To Put Politics Aside and Treat Fentanyl Crisis as a Clear and Present Danger

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Alarm bells should be ringing in the Biden White House after the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 300,000 rainbow-colored fentanyl pills worth almost $10 million in a Bronx apartment building last month. A synthetic opioid that can be deadly even in minuscule amounts, fentanyl is a clear and present danger across our nation. And we’re not doing enough about it.

Mexican cartels produce and smuggle fentanyl, which is now the leading cause of death for adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 45.  

Without a doubt, the U.S. must continue to grapple with the demand side of this menace. That means focusing on prevention programs by educating especially our youth about the dangers of illicit drugs, treatment programs, and incarcerating the criminals who sell or use illegal drugs in our territory. 

But if there was one thing I learned at the CIA, it’s the importance of detecting threats way out “left of boom” and preempting them before they visit our shores. Targeting the supply side before fentanyl seeps inside our borders is as critically important to a successful counternarcotics strategy. 

The U.S. has effectively used the 20-year-old Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act to sanction and take judicial action against foreign drug trafficking organizations. But today, under siege from fentanyl traffickers, Washington must build a more comprehensive, coordinated, bipartisan strategy, based on three prongs.

First, the U.S. must choke off the Chinese companies and individuals who supply the chemical precursors for fentanyl to Mexican cartels. Even with the U.S.-China bilateral relationship at a historical nadir, both countries should recognize the benefit of counternarcotics cooperation.

But pressing China to do more to enforce its own fentanyl regulations requires a combination carrot-and-stick approach, which includes sanctioning and where possible indicting Chinese companies and individuals; publicly exposing and shaming Chinese criminal groups and their networks; enhancing Mexican-Chinese law enforcement cooperation against fentanyl dealers; and underscoring the risk to China’s own population in permitting synthetic opioid production to flourish in their territory.

Second, the U.S. needs to embrace a more powerful, all-hands-on-deck governmental mission against the Mexican drug cartels, which are responsible for mass-producing and shipping fentanyl to the U.S. Working with federal, state and local law enforcement, the U.S. intelligence community should map out the supply chain from China and the demand side from U.S. criminal distributors and users, so as more effectively to identify and hunt down Mexican cartels and their associates. The U.S. and Mexico should empower a joint task force composed of military and police officers to fight the cartels, in accordance with Mexican and international law.

Third, even though U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seized massive amounts of fentanyl, the Biden administration still needs to urgently harden our defenses at the border. And we should remember that bipartisanship is not out of the question: Democrats and Republicans have argued for years in favor of secure borders. President Bill Clinton drew attention to the national security risks of illegal immigration in his 1995 State of the Union address and his administration hired what was then a record number of new border guards.

The bipartisan 2007 McCain-Kennedy Immigration reform bill established increased border patrols, border barriers, fencing, radar and aerial vehicles. And the 2006 bipartisan Secure Fence Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law, authorized about 700 miles of fencing along some of the U.S.-Mexico border. The law also called for vehicle barriers, checkpoints and the use of advanced technology to stem illegal immigration.

Physical barriers can be of great assistance to law enforcement. but narcotraffickers are always looking to exploit other vulnerabilities. El Chapo, the infamous Mexican drug kingpin, used tunnels to smuggle drugs into the United States.

We need therefore to provide our dedicated Border Patrol agents with technical enhancements and increased personnel to do their job better. Border Patrol agents are our critical last line of defense against overseas narcocriminals. According to the DEA, most illegal drugs enter the southwestern U.S. border via legal ports of entry. Shipments are often hidden in cars and tractor-trailers.

Declaring illegal drugs a threat to U.S. national security 40 years ago, President Ronald Reagan said, “There are no impossible situations. There are only people who think they’re impossible.” Politicians of all stripes should recognize how even in this period of heightened partisan acrimony, they must find the common ground to take the fight to the narcotraffickers and do right by the citizens whom they represent.

Reporting by The Washington Times.