Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Stop worrying about Afghan opium 

Just about the only good thing that anybody can say about the Taliban, in sort of the same way people once said that "Mussolini made the trains run on time," is that they cracked down on Afghanistan's poppy trade. The Afghan poppy crop has come back in a big way since 2001, increasing by 64% in 2004 over the prior year. This has drawn the attention of the dopes people in Congress and elsewhere who think we should brutalize the farmers of poor countries who grow poppies and coca rather than keep our own citizens in line. Not wanting to appear soft on the war on drugs and always willing to be stupid about the war on terror, Congress appropriated $152 million last year so that the State Department could bomb Afghan's poppy fields with herbicides.

Unfortunately, Afghan's newly-elected President Karzai won't let us spray. I'm sure the war on drugs crowd is extremely disappointed that Karzai isn't the puppet that the anti-war crowd has assumed he was. Good for him. The whole idea was ridiculous and counterproductive in the first place.

I have always thought that the destruction of the base crops was by far the most immoral aspect of the war on drugs. If we have a problem controlling our borders or educating our people, that's our problem, not the problem of some poor guy in the mountains of Columbia or the meadows of Afghanistan. But never mind that.

Why do we want to destabilize Afghanistan's economy just after it elected a pro-American democratic government? You would think that enraging the rural folks just after a lot of them have been persuaded to listen to Kabul rather than, or in addition to, the Taliban or their local warlord is a bad idea and quite counter to our war objectives.

If we care that much about interdicting opium at the source, why not buy the crop? The entire GDP of that country is only $20 billion a year, so how much could the all the poppies in Afghanistan cost?

I'll tell you why we don't buy the poppy crop: because no American politician wants his next opponent to accuse him of subsidizing heroin, however smart it might be to do that.

The silliest part is that very little heroin from Afghanistan makes it to the United States. The American interest in destroying Afghanistan's poppies must, therefore, be based on the assumption that heroin is fungible, like oil. Without really knowing anything about the drug trade, it seems that a suppressed market that requires smuggling is quite different in its dynamic than a free market such as oil. Oil certainly is fungible, but opium may not be.

So maybe we are destroying Afghanistan's opium crop to make our European allies happy. If so, I can't think of a better reason to ignore our European allies. If they are so concerned about heroin coming out of Afghanistan, let Europe buy the poppy crop. They spend four times what we do subsidizing their own farmers, so a couple billion euros in Afghan flowers will vanish in their budget like a single drop in a summer rain storm.

Fortunately, one does get the sense from the linked story that the State Department isn't going to the mat with Karzai over the spraying of crops. State is going to redirect the money to "public information," teaching Afghan farmers to grow alternatives and smashing up the labs that make the drugs, which seems like just the sort of face-saving cop out that we need right now.

There are much worse people in Afghanistan than poppy farmers. They are called Islamists. As Christopher Hitchens might ask, when are we going to stop dicking around?


By Blogger Fausta, at Wed Jan 26, 08:56:00 AM:

If we care that much about interdicting opium at the source, why not buy the crop?The question, IMO, should be, Why doesn't the EU?  

By Blogger Gordon Smith, at Wed Jan 26, 09:05:00 AM:

You've said it before and you're saying it again, and we likes it. We really, really likes it.

Regarding the above comment: Yeah, the EU could pitch in as well, but if we put reconstruction monies we are already planning on spending into this kitty, everybody wins. And the U.S. government has an assload of opium to boot!  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Wed Jan 26, 09:45:00 AM:

Just another in the endless list of reasons to end the "drug war." The toll in lives, good will and resources of this failed enterprise is staggering. This president, if he had the balls, could make the case for ending it on moral grounds.  

By Blogger james82, at Wed Jan 26, 07:02:00 PM:

My opinion is still undecided whether the war on drugs is good or bad for America, so it's always interesting to weigh a fresh point in the debate - thanks. More on the subject would be appreciated.  

By Blogger Dr. Demarche, at Thu Jan 27, 04:31:00 PM:

TigerHawk scores again. They are practicing the most basic form of capitalism and producing what the markets are calling for. If we want to spend money on Afghani crops let's figure out something that grows in France or Greece (olives?) or any other blatantly anti-American country and develop that crop in Afghanistan. We can provide the seed, irrigation technology and whatever else they need and pre-order the future harvests. I doubt any Afghani farmer wants to kill a kid in LA with heroin, he just wants to feed his family.  

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