Each seized cargo is an opportunity for another seller to fill the gap. Each arrested trafficker is an invitation for a competitor to grab his business. The more vigorous and successful the law enforcement campaign, the higher the prices drug suppliers can command -- and the more people will be enticed to enter the market. It's a self-defeating process.
All this would be academic if Americans (and Mexicans) would simply lose their taste for illicit drugs. But we might as well hope the Sahara Desert will run out of sand.
There has always been a demand for mind-altering substances, and there always will be. That's why, despite all the resources the U.S. government has expended on locking up sellers and their customers, drug use is higher today than it was two decades ago.
Prohibition is no match for the obstinacy and ingenuity of many human beings. Iran has a repressive theocratic regime that imposes severe penalties for using and selling drugs -- including death by hanging. Yet it has one of the highest rates of addiction in the world.
President Obama's promise of change is inapplicable in this realm. The Bush administration provided hundreds of millions of dollars to help Mexico fight the drug war. The Obama administration intends to keep sending money, the only real difference being that it will go to the police instead of the military.
On a recent trip to Mexico City, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that Americans' demand for drugs helps sustain the Mexican merchants and resolved to address the problem. "We are looking at everything that can work," she said.
Well, almost everything. The most viable option is the one that is considered unthinkable. The head of Obama's Office of National Drug Control Policy has said that "legalization is not in the president's vocabulary, nor is it in mine."
No, but failure is.