tampabay.com

Drug war keeps stability alive, terror in check

By JOSE CARDENAS
Published May 10, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Richard J. Douglas, a St. Petersburg native and Navy reservist, was recently named deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics for the Department of Defense.

Translation: The hometown boy is now in charge of fighting the illegal opium drug trade coming from Afghanistan.

He is based in Washington, D.C., but he still calls St. Petersburg home. While in town last week, he talked with Neighborhood Times about his recent stint in Iraq and the challenges of his new job.

Why is it important for the United States to fight opium production in Afghanistan?

We understand now what it means to have an unstable and ungoverned country in the center of Asia. After the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, the world seemed to forget Afghanistan. The Taliban and al-Qaida found a welcoming refuge and essentially established a terrorist state. ... So by stabilizing, and then building, Afghan capacity to govern itself, we hope to prevent in the future the instability and chaos that contributed to 9/11. ... Drug trafficking has a corrosive and destructive effect on government and the rule of law. The Taliban uses drug money to buy weapons and to pay people to attack the Afghan government.

What is this "five-pillar plan" to fight the Afghan narcotics industry?

The five-pillar plan is an Afghanistan plan to re-establish the rule of law, economic vitality and a safer, healthier nation. ... It reflects the critical need to provide farmers other ways to feed their families than by growing poppies.

The five pillars are things like economic development, justice, security, within the rule of law you have anticorruption, and probably one of the most important ones, alternative livelihoods.

What is your job in this plan?

We administer the funding that Congress appropriates every year to the Department of Defense for its counternarcotics activities. ... My job is to make sure that the funds are allocated to the commander so he can carry out his plans. I also exercise general policy oversight for the secretary on Department of Defense counternarcotics activity.

Is progress being made?

Three years ago Afghanistan was governed by the Taliban and al-Qaida. Women were flogged in the street. Children could not go to school. And Afghanistan was an international pariah.

Today, Afghanistan has a democratically elected government, a small but growing economy, courageous and determined public safety forces, and people with a will to improve their country and their own lives. Yet, there are tremendous challenges, and President Karzai himself has recognized the threat posed by narcotics trafficking to Afghanistan's future.

Why do you believe in this fight?

We, the United States, know through bitter experience what happens when the world allows terrorists to find safe haven in any country. Second, I believe that the United States has a stake in helping other nations build their own capacity to be safer and healthier. And last, I believe one of the largest challenges we face in overcoming the global narcotics threat is demand in our own country.