NYTimes a Mouthpiece Advocating Disastrous Afghan Narco Policy

This week’s NYTimes Sunday Magazine had a silly/destructive article titled “Is Afghanistan a Narco State?”  Quick answer: obviously yes.  It was written by Thomas Schweich, a professor at Wash U and a drug warrior extraordinaire who seems to believe that advancing America’s failed drug war policies in Afghanistan is more important than stabilizing that troubled nation.  Shweich is another delusional  drug warrior and his presence in the NYTimes shows, once again, that the newspaper of record is asleep at the wheel.

This poorly argued and illogical article should never have made it to the Times.Schweich five pages are summed up when he complains how “an odd cabal of timorous (nervous) Europeans, myopic (lack of imagination) media outlets, corrupt Afghanis (including nearly everyone in the current Afghan government), blinkered (?) Pentagon officers, politically motivated Democrats and the Taliban were preventing the implementation of an effective counterdrug program.”  It’s true: everyone is against his plan to implement an aerial eradication program to destroy Afghan poppis.  But why?  First, it’s important to note that when he says ‘effective counterdrug program’ he is using the $5 billion Columbia eradication program as a benchmark of success.  The same day this article was published the NYTimes also published this interesting article that deems the Columbian eradication program a failure. Second, you can ask any New York hipster about the price of blow on the street and they’ll smile very big.  More surprising than his faith in his silly/destructive program is his near comic confusion as to why all these forces won’t allow him to use planes to spray herbicide over thousands of areas of Afghani farms.

To him, the calculation is simple:
Less poppy = less opium = less money for the Taliban and fewer drugs on the street.  Unfortunately the world is slightly more complex.

The Army hates his plan because they know that:
American led destruction of Afghan property = angry Afghans = more Taliban sympathizers = more dead American soldiers and a more difficult war.

Economists hate his plan because they know that:
Less Afghan poppy = unmet demand for opium = more south Asian poppy = no change on the street.

Clearly Schweich isn’t familiar with that economic reasoning because he was surprised when the South Asia Office in the Pentagon ‘made an about face’ and resisted his aerial eradication program.  Obviously, they didn’t want to watch their hard work evaporate as the poppy crop rushed back into their area of responsibility.

I’d like to leave the reader with the following undisputed information.  The Netherlands, like many developed nations, had a growing number of heroine addicts.  Instead of increasing the jail time for addicts or venturing around the word trying to kill other people’s crops, they began selling heroine themselves and even helped addicts administer the potentially lethal drug.   The number of addicts has been going down ever since.  The Dutch realized that if addicts get their fix from health care professional instead of back alley drug dealers, addicts are many many times more likely to be convinced to enter treatment.  They have the best of both worlds: less heroine addicts and less taxpayer expense.  That policy is now being used in British Columbia, Switzerland and Germany.

Finding English language mainstream media information about such programs is difficult but the NYTimes mentions them here, the alternative press here and the medical press here.

At the end of his article, Schweich proposes a ‘simple plan’ to eliminate heroine productions in Afghanistan:
1. Force Karzai to have a zero tolerance policy.  (Everyone paying attention knows this will lead to Karzai’s defeat in the next election to a candidate who resists US destruction of his constituents’ property.)
2. ‘Enable force-eradication.’  (This would entail the Afghan army spending its resources and risking their lives to destroy the crops of their fellow countrymen.)
3. Increase the amount of DEA in Kabul. (Shocker.)
4. Fund development and education projects.  (I advocate this one.  Smoking opium is a sin in Islam and the culture should prevent more farmers from planting it.)
5. Ask the allies to help.  (The allies hate US drug policy so I won’t hold my breadth.)

I have a simpler plan.
1. Treat Afghani opiates like we treat the multinational pharmaceutical companies’ opiates (OxyCodone, Vicodin, Codine and the hundreds of others).  Regulate it, tax it and follow the Dutch plan for distribution.

As soon as you regulate instead of criminalize drugs, the (violent) black market disappears.  The Taliban would lose their primary source of revenue and the Afghan people would respect us because we would be respecting them.  Of course, Thomas Schweich would prefer the US government legislating international morality (and legislating it ineffectively) instead of winning the war in Afghanistan.  He needs a little perspective.

I suggest reading the article on Colombian eradication of cocoa.  It shows, once again, that the black market is creating violence in Columbia and, now that FARC is on the decline, smaller groups are filling the void with their own drug-money-fueled armies.  It’s a sad state of affairs.

Graphing Democracy in 3D

We spend a lot of time talking about democracy but very little time actually defining it.  Democracy comes from the Greek words ‘demos’ (people) and ‘kratos’ (power.)  For many centuries after the collapse of the Athenian democracy and the Greek and Roman Republics, democracy (people power) was synonymous with mob rule, chaos and insecurity.  Many assumed that a majority rule democracy would oppress minorities.  This fear was one of the elements that encouraged America’s founding fathers to institute the electoral college and create the Senate.

Due to widespread overuse and misinterpretation, many political scientists prefer the term polyarchy, which means ‘many rule’ over the term democracy.  ‘Polyarchy’ is the title of a seminal political science book by Robert Dahl.  In this book, Dahl proposes that all governments have two variables – competitiveness and inclusiveness – and can be placed on a graph with those two axis.

Competitiveness asks who can compete for political office. Robert Dahl's polyarchy graph from 1971 America’s competitiveness is much lower than Israel’s because America’s two mainstream political parties effectively prevent people with diverse perspectives from running for office while Israel’s multi-party coalition system enables almost anyone to run.

Inclusiveness asks who can vote. America does much better than Israel here because all American citizens can vote while only Israeli citizens can vote – excluding the non-citizen Palestinians who live on Israeli occupied lands.

Dahl’s definition of polyarchy is good, but not complete.  His graph doesn’t account for the most powerful force in politics:  information distribution.  Those who control access to information have tremendous political power.  They can amplify certain elements within society and silence others.  They can create the illusion of competitiveness and inclusiveness, amplify certain social elements while silencing others, and create false narratives.  Information is power and it must be included in Dahl’s analysis, but how?

Three important questions arise when thinking about information: who can create it, how is it distributed and how can it be applied.  The first question is technical: does the population have access to information creation tools?  The second is technical/cultural: who has the technology to distribute it and the cultural capital  needed to get people to pay attention?  The third is entirely cultural: what can individuals, communities and organizations do with the information they process?

Transparency is the key component that addresses all of these questions as one.  Transparency requires everyone have the ability to create, distribute and use information.  There is no barrier between a totally transparent government and the society it serves.  In that instance, government and society become one.  Institutions are a third element in the transparency matrix.  Their existence ensures that a totally transparent government will never exist.  However, by intelligently using network technologies, we can get close.

When transparency is added as the third dimension to Dalh’s polyarchy graph,  the possibility a relationship between competitiveness and inclusiveness arises within a 3 dimensional space.  This possibility becomes reality in the graph z=x^3 + y^3.

3D Graph of Polyarchy (democracy)
3D Graph of Polyarchy (democracy)

In this graph, a positively transparent society is placed into the top left area of  polyarchy while a negatively transparent society (one in which information is used to create false realities) brings you towards the bottom right area of authoritarianism.  A society that is inclusive but not competitive has a negative transparency because a lot of people are supporting a poor selection of leaders so false realities is constructed to help people view this situation as acceptable.  A society that is competitive but not inclusive is highly transparent because each included individual receives an unusually high return on their vote.   In the real world, a highly inclusive but minimally competitive government like the Soviet Union had a vast propaganda machine while the highly competitive but relatively non-inclusive post-revolution America had a thriving, decentralized information distribution businesses.

The next step is clear: we need to solve for transparency.  Given two variables we could, theoretically, plot societies on the x^3+Y^3 plane and even watch as they move across it over time.  The implications for this would be tremendous.  Imagine if America adopted a foreign policy of transparency whose only mission was to facilitate the creation of transparent national governments.  I think this is precisely the type of metric we need to create a global coalition of friendly, democratic and free nations.