Recently Becker used a small amount of leverage to get the ports of key Colombian cities to crack down on drug exports. He knew that many of the drugs that end up on North American street corners were passing through these ports with almost as much ease as bananas and Panama hats. When various port officials told him that they didn't have the money or the personnel to effectively search for drugs, Becker offered to provide port police with proper equipment and specialized training.
"What the ports found," Becker says, "is that with the right tools and training they were able to save themselves a lot of money." This occurred, he explains, because the improved police were able to prevent much of the corruption that before had cost the ports a large chunk of their profits. The ports became a significant ally in the war against drugs.
Becker's strategy aims at three distinct aspects of the drug war. The first is limit the current availability of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin on American streets.
"On a slightly larger sphere," Becker continues, "we're trying to buy time until drug education at home has greater effect."
The third level, Becker explains, is "to make sure that America isn't surrounded by countries run by drug traffickers."
When he was at Reed, where he majored in international studies, Becker figures people pegged him as a conservative-"though I like to think I was kind of middle-of-the-road." Now that he's at the State Department he's seen as more of a liberal. Perspective sometime depends as much on where you are as who you are.
"I say that I am a change agent assigned to work with other countries and to reform institutions overseas_so that they can benefit their societies, and, obviously, benefit U.S. interests.
"I like responsibility," Becker says. "I like to say,`This is what I stand for.' And if I'm right, it's clearly visible. And if I'm wrong, it's also clearly visible. I like to be judged by results."
Dean Paton is a Seattle-based freelance writer. This is his first article for Reed.