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Who killed President Kennedy and why? What was the Iran-Contra affair all about? Why did the U.S. invade Panama?  Why did the U.S. get involved in Kosovo? Who is Osama bin Laden? Not everyone cares to know. I salute those of you who ask questions like these. I ask them too. We experience many things in our lifetime without knowing their cause or origin. Some of these things affect the entire nation. Many of them are connected. In the 1980s, I was a high school student. I did not know why cocaine use was on the rise among my peers. I did not know exactly what the Iran-Contra affair entailed. I had no idea that these two phenomena could be connected.

In order to understand the events that make the headlines, one must understand the context in which they occur. I do not imagine that any person completely understands our world, but some people understand it far better than others.  Thanks to the efforts of several scholars and journalists, I am confident that there are some things that I now understand better than the average reader. So I decided that there should be a book such as the one you are now reading. The book you now have before you represents some of the most enlightening work available on the subject of international drug trafficking and how it affects the course of American politics.

"It's the economy, stupid!" was a phrase much heard during and following the 1992 presidential race. The present point to be made is that, due to the enormity of the drug economy,  American presidents may ignore or threaten it only at their peril.

This book is designed for college-level readers, especially students, and is about the context in which American politics and foreign policy take place. I am not satisfied with the current paradigm. Conceptual models of the American political system may vary in complexity and composition from classroom to classroom but the thing that they seem to have most in common is that they are very sanitary -- geometric shapes drawn on a board, connected by lines or grouped in circles, representing the actors, forces and relationships of the legitimate world. Illegitimate actors in  the arena are usually left out of such models. We may all roll our eyes at conspiracy theories warning us about plans for a New World Order ushered in by Jewish Communist bankers or space aliens from Zeta Reticuli; someone is seeing things that probably aren’t there. On the other hand, I feel that it is high time that we put to public derision some of the prevailing opinions. We have so far failed to see what is becoming increasingly obvious: that the amount of revenue generated by the illegal drug trade has tremendous influence on American politicians and domestic and foreign policy. Like pre-Copernican astronomers who developed increasingly complicated and farcical geo-centric theories of planetary motion, not daring to challenge the Church's assertion that the sun revolved around the earth, too many scholars in our time have let the "powers that be" define the limits of acceptable inquiry with regard to power politics.

One cannot present a complete picture of the global political economy without identifying and recognizing the industries that produce the most revenue and the groups having the most political influence. Yet, year after year, American university students attend courses on international business without even being introduced to the concept of money laundering. They attend courses on international political economy without ever learning that the amount of revenue generated by the narcotics trade is in a class with world petroleum production. They attend courses on U.S. foreign policy where only the merest mention is made of covert operations. This is not the most praiseworthy of education.

Many people have devoted significant portions of their lives trying to unravel the mystery behind just one of the headline stories mentioned above. I have experienced this somewhat myself, having spent almost four years reading literature on the Kennedy assassination. I also spent four years obtaining an undergraduate degree in international relations and I still wasn’t satisfied that I had learned what I set out to learn. What I was missing in both cases was a paradigm in which I could correctly interpret information. Once I reached that paradigm, everything fell almost immediately into place. The key that I had been missing – and which is missing from public debate in general – is the enormity of the international black market in drugs. Unsurprisingly, I found that all the complexities of sinister human activity ultimately stem from a lust for money and power.

Many excellent textbooks exist outlining the basics of political science, political history, and foreign policy. Though decifient in some respects, such books rightfully take a center place in classroom use. The following readings were chosen for their helpfulness in "filling in the blanks."

I wish at this time to express the admiration and respect I have for the authors whose work appears here. From a position in which they might expect people to listen to what they say, they have not only the courage to tell the unwelcome truth but the grace to cooperate with a humble unknown such as myself. I would particularly like to thank professors William Chambliss and Peter Dale Scott for their early encouragement on this project.

Kent Heiner
August 2001
Bellingham, WA