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.

5 thoughts on “NYTimes a Mouthpiece Advocating Disastrous Afghan Narco Policy”

  1. In many ways Walther I will agree with you (which is rare).

    Completely eradicating all poppies will do nothing but piss of the Afghanis, allow the Taliban and Al Qaeda to continue issuing their anti-American propaganda and perhaps most disastrously, continue the current regression of progress in the war torn country and make our efforts there even more futile.

    However, it is what to do with the poppies that I disagree with you completely.

    I don’t want to turn this forum into a war on drugs post because I don’t want to go off topic, but limiting the supply of drugs, especially highly addicting and potentially murderous opiates, cannot be a bad thing.

    As for the Columbian situation, you are right that FARC was replaced by smaller groups. Frankly, even though those smaller groups continue to help create cocaine, I’d rather them do it than a terrorist organization like FARC. Likewise, I’d rather armies in Southeast Asia control the opium market than the Taliban (at least for now, I don’t see Laosian opium farmers funding terrorists)

    What we should do is instead of eradicating the crops, go in and help the harvesters change directions. We can introduce and integrate the poppy trade into the legal market for things other than opium. This is clearly somewhat limited so we also need to subsidize them for a while while they learn to grow other products that they can put on the international and local market.

    Doing this accomplishes many things. As high as 70% of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan so with simple supply and demand, getting this trade out of the country limits the supply of heroin, which will drive up the cost like it or not. It’s my belief (and you are free to disagree with me on this) that this will discourage first time users which for a drug like heroin is hugely important.

    More important, it will give legitimacy to the Afghan farmers. They will have respectable jobs that they can put on the global market.

    The partnership that American soldiers, contractors and volunteers can have teaching these farmers how to grow and sell their product legitimately will be the true victory. This will teach the villagers that they don’t need to rely on the Taliban for sustenance.

    A major victory in the War on Terror will be achieved when they realize that a partnership with America would be much better.

  2. 1. Eradicating all poppies isn’t an option just like eradicating all cannabis or coca plant isn’t an option either.
    2. I would like to know how you plant to so simply limit the supply of drugs. Just because you can articulate a goal doesn’t mean it’s achievable. If you somehow, and this would require great cost, found a way to drastically reduce the amount of opium produced in Afghanistan, the market would respond by raising prices (at least at the wholesale level) and that price information would signal to farmers
    elsewhere in the global marketplace (most likely south Asia) that they should grow more opium. When that shift happens in the marketplace, generally more opium is grown than was destroyed. This explains why the South Asia division of the Pentagon is against this Afghan irradication plan and why, despite 30 years of US government effort to disrupt supply, the street price of heroine in America continues to go down while the purity increases.
    3. I know you like to label one group terrorists and another group criminals but the line is gray when it comes to FARC and the other paramilitary groups in Columbia that are funded by drug money. I’m happy FARC is on the decline but the article clearly shows that the stateness problems of Columbia continue with or without FARC, but they will not continue without the lucrative and illicit cocaine market.
    4. I agree that, as an American, I’d prefer if Laosian farmers grew opium but I also realize that achieving that objective could be extremely costly and that generally, disruption to the illicit drug market creates a lot of violence and governance problems.
    5. The unfortunate fact is heroine is extremely cheap and every indicator shows that it will remain that way if we continue our criminalization policy. I think a sensible treatment and health-care based drug prevention policy would be more effective in preventing first time users than a marginal (and improbably) increase in price.
    6. We all agree the US should aggressively pursue education and training programs for farmers that will bring them into the legitimate marketplace.

  3. I think we should just legalize everything, have lax drug policies like Walther is suggesting and let the junkies overdose. Then, eventually no one will be buying drugs. It’ll be great! Maybe people who smoke weed should just stop doing it because they are funding terrorism and are anti-american. USA!

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