Two days ago I posted that the US should buy and burn all the Opium in Afghanistan because trying to stop Afghan farmers from growing their only crop drives them straight into the insurgency. Yesterday, Christopher Hitchens said the same thing:
This is why it is peculiar of us, if not bizarre and quasi-suicidal, to insist that its main economic lifeblood continues to be wholly controlled by our enemies…And, unsurprisingly, UNODC also reports that the vast bulk of the revenue from this astonishing harvest goes directly to the Taliban or to local warlords and mullahs. Meanwhile, in the guise of liberators NATO forces appear and tell the Afghan villagers that they intend to burn their only crop. And the American embassy is only restrained by the Afghan government from pursuing a policy of actually spraying this same crop from the air! In other words, the discredited fantasy of Richard Nixon’s so-called “War on Drugs” is the dogma on which we are prepared to gamble and lose the country that gave birth to the Taliban and hospitality to al-Qaida.
SO WHAT IS THE BETTER SOLUTION?
While in the short term, hard-pressed Afghan farmers should be allowed to sell their opium to the government rather than only to the many criminal elements that continue to infest it or to the Taliban. We don’t have to smoke the stuff once we have purchased it: It can be burned or thrown away or perhaps more profitably used to manufacture the painkillers of which the United States currently suffers a shortage. (As it is, we allow Turkey to cultivate opium poppy fields for precisely this purpose.) Why not give Afghanistan the contract instead? At one stroke, we help fill its coffers and empty the main war chest of our foes while altering the “hearts-and-minds” balance that has been tipping away from us.
WILL THAT FLY IN WASHINGTON?
I happen to know that this option has been discussed at quite high levels in Afghanistan itself, and I leave you to guess at the sort of political constraints that prevent it from being discussed intelligently in public in the United States. But if we ever have to have the melancholy inquest on how we “lost” a country we had once liberated, this will be one of the places where the conversation will have to start.
I couldn’t agree more. Hitchens is right on the last point but I don’t see why this couldn’t be carried out covertly. And just to be clear I had no idea that Hitchens would be writing this on October 6 when I posted the same thing on October 5th. In fact, I have long argued (and have a paper trail to prove it) that the drug trade everywhere could easily be disrupted and destroyed by the US government if it wanted to disrupt the economic supply and demand chain. Major High-Five to Friday_in-Cairo for passing this along.