Fighting the insurgency
December 16, 2005
In the wake of the now-infamous drug raid, Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson shares the stigma that George W. Bush has endured since the start of the war in Iraq. The use of deadly force has mired both men in comparable quagmires.The parallels of the Aspen drug raid and the Bush war are evident in the excessive use of policing power in the perceived interests of constituents. Bush and Ryerson are worlds apart in their jurisdictions, but similar principles applied to their decisions.Both men chose to act without the full support of their communities. Ryerson appeared indifferent to establishing a coalition with Sheriff Bob Braudis, and Bush displayed the same indifference with the international community.When the U.S. invaded Iraq, it was with lukewarm international support and clearly without the nod of the U.N. When Ryerson invaded Little Annie’s and Cooper Street Pier, it was without the nod of the sheriff’s office or even its awareness – until the jails were filled.The invasion of Iraq and the raid in Aspen were acts of armed aggression against perceived threats, in both cases having identifiable ethnic origins. Bush invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq. The Aspen raid targeted a primarily Hispanic work force.Both acts were risky and ill-conceived in regards to the safety of the innocents involved. In Aspen, customers were dining with children when weapons were drawn. In Iraq, more than 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the U.S.-led invasion.Both Bush and Ryerson made leadership decisions based on their own judgments and with encouragement and direction from their staffs and advisors. Their decisions set into play a series of events that neither man could possibly have foreseen.Bush has been roundly criticized for his failure to design an endgame to the war. More than two years after the invasion, there is still no exit strategy from what has become a costly occupation. The Aspen raid had no guarantee of nonviolence, and the police chief simply had to trust that his actions would not jeopardize public safety.Both leaders claim there was strong evidence to support their actions, and on this point Ryerson’s credibility is stronger than Bush’s. Intelligence of WMDs in Iraq proved false, which Bush finally admitted last week, whereas Ryerson’s raid produced illegal drugs, albeit in moderate quantities.The war in Iraq continues, as does the war on drugs in Aspen. Both are being fought with limited success because the cultures involved are resistant to resolution by force. Bush knows that, but he still defends his actions: “My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat and the American people and the world are better off because he is no longer in power.”Ryerson could have said the same about the drug dealers arrested during the Aspen raid. He could have argued that the raid had real results and will reduce the availability of illegal drugs within his jurisdiction. But nobody would believe it, so instead, Ryerson became contrite.”If you’re asking if there’s going to be another raid next week,” Ryerson was quoted, “No. I don’t anticipate it happening again. I hope to heck never to have to arrest another person on drug charges or for dealing drugs.”That’s like Bush saying he hopes American troops will never have to encounter another offensive in Fallujah. Face it: The drug insurgency in Aspen is as entrenched as the military insurgency in Iraq.Saddam is gone from Iraqi leadership, but the insurgency grows stronger. A few drug dealers are gone from Aspen, but drug issue is anything but resolved. Both factions thrive on complex, underground conduits. The use of deadly force in Iraq and the use of potentially deadly force in Aspen are not the right approaches to changing the entrenched social and cultural systems these factions represent.Lessons in both cases are cautionary. The use of irrevocable force must be weighed against the long-term interests of the public and the institutions Bush and Ryerson represent. Cavalier behavior, both in Washington and Aspen, may ultimately prove damaging to the success of statutory and moral law.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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