The Bolivians are laughing at us. The Peruvians, too. They told us a long time ago that the problem was not with the supply of cocaine to the United States. The problem was with the demand for the stuff.
But we continued believing in the "cookie theory" solution to drug abuse. That goes like this: If you take a plate of cookies into a room, people who had not been thinking about eating cookies would suddenly want some. Thus, the way to make people not want cookies is not to bring a plate of cookies into the room.
Never mind that a person with a sweet tooth will go hunt for a cookie. Never mind teaching a person how to cope with the desire. Just keep the cookies out of reach.
Any child could tell you that this is difficult, and when it comes to the importation of tons and tons of cocaine, it is clearly impossible.
Yet, the Reagan administration maintains its view that "interdicting" cocaine is the best way to stop the flow of drugs into the country.
They tell us about the two tons confiscated here, the ton captured there. But nobody talks about the estimated 750 tons that got through last year.
In an impressive piece of reporting on cocaine for the Atlantic magazine in January, James Lieber noted that the focus of the multimillion-dollar "interdiction" effort is the South Florida Task Force, which Reagan proclaimed "a brilliant example of working federalism" six months after it was kicked off in 1982.
But, says Lieber, "Interdiction has led law-enforcement officials into an unwitting symbiotic relationship with drug traffickers. The smugglers understand Washington's need to see a steadily rising number of arrests and confiscations. As a result, a smuggler sends into the country not less cocaine but more -- divided among several boats, one of which the smuggler considers expendable.
"If the police capture the decoy, they get some cocaine, a boat, a crew, statistics and arrests," Lieber wrote. "Most captures at sea involve not the drug trade's linchpins but its lowliest laborers, who are generally too ignorant and fearful of reprisals to be of use. In any case, the other boats get through. Boths sides are reasonably content, but only the smuggler has accomplished his purpose."
Meanwhile, efforts at educating our young people boil down to woefully pathetic slogans, a few bus stop advertisements and the tragedies of our best and brightest citizens.
True, Nancy Reagan has made drug abuse her chief topic of concern, Lieber notes, and she has served as the host of a television series, "Chemical People," that was intended to help promote an antidrug atmosphere in schools.
Still, he adds, "The Reagan administration rhetorically favors drug education but has yet to devote much money to the effort. Indeed, the Department of Education's budget for programs to combat drug abuse has declined, from $14 million in 1981 to a paltry $2.9 million in 1985."
And this at a time when drugs are virtually washing into our cities.
Check this out: A gram of legal cocaine, pharmaceutically pure, costs less than $2. The stuff that is being sold on the streets of Washington is highly toxic, adulterated with everything from quinine to baby powder -- and it still costs $100 a gram.
The financial havoc, the emotional ruin, the moral decay that this stuff is having on our communities is astounding.
Yet, we persist in using the tried-and-untrue means of interdiction to curb drug flow.
Its time now to heed the words of John C. Lawn, acting administrator for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who says, "The problem is greater than law enforcement is able to cope with."
The problem, indeed, is demand -- not supply -- and unless we start increasing our efforts at education, especially among our children, then what good will it do to produce great American talent only to watch it crumble under the influence of drugs?