Last month, I highlighted the confusion of our government, which, in its effort to stop the insidious cultivation of Afghan opium, has, for example, been issuing sharia-compliant micro-loans to Afghan farmers NOT to grow opium poppies, even as it has been ordering the military to turn a blind eye to such poppy cultivation. Meanwhile, the poisonous harvest continues to expand across the country, thus enriching and funding the Taliban (not to mention elements of the Afghan government)--who, of course, our military is supposed to be defeating.
Yesterday's New York Times Magazine carries a lucid and sobering explanation of how and why our policy is such a shambles. It is by Thomas Schweich, a former Bush administration counternarcotics official, and it offers further proof of how wholly ill-equipped we are, mentally--or should I say, developmentally--speaking for foreign intervention, which isn't exactly kid stuff.
Things Schweich makes (all too) clear:
1) Starving Afghan farmers do NOT rely on the opium crop, the favorite sob song of the media. Indeed, the massive opium cultivation is going on in the prosperous Afghan south, not the hardscrabble north. This canard is similar to the "root causes" rationale for jihad--namely, that the poor and uneducated simply have to blow up office buildings and markets given their lack of opportunities...when it is infact the case that education, advanced degrees, social position, opportunities are usually markers of the modern jihadist.
2)Hamid Karzai has in effect been protecting opium production by ruling out safe and effective aerial eradication tactics. Schweich explains:
The most effective method of eradication was the use of herbicides delivered by crop-dusters. But Karzai had long opposed aerial eradication, saying it would be misunderstood as some sort of poison coming from the sky. He claimed to fear that aerial eradication would result in an uprising that would cause him to lose power. We found this argument perplexing because aerial eradication was used in rural areas of other poor countries without a significant popular backlash. The chemical used, glyphosate, was a weed killer used all over the United States, Europe and even Afghanistan. (Drug lords use it in their gardens in Kabul.) There were volumes of evidence demonstrating that it was harmless to humans and became inert when it hit the ground. My assistant at the time was a Georgia farmer, and he told me that his father mixed glyphosate with his hands before applying it to their orchards.
Nonetheless, Karzai opposed it, and we at the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs went along. We financed ground-based eradication instead: police using tractors and weed-whackers to destroy the fields of farmers who refused to plant alternative crops. Ground-based eradication was inefficient, costly, dangerous and more subject to corrupt dealings among local officials than aerial eradication. But it was our only option....
Our only option? The Karzai government's existence depends on US might and money ...and the US is forced to follow a wholly useless and downright dangerous counter-narco strategy that directly aids our enemies, including the shooting kind?
Read the whole thing and learn more about how not to mount a grown-up war effort.