“We are out of the eradication business”

Jason’s 4/20 cri de coeur is well taken, but here’s a bit of hopeful news on the drug war front from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Danger Room: I’m also mystified to our approach to drug policy over there [Afghanistan – Will edit]. Do we have a single approach to narcotics there?

Mullen: The overall strategy is to replace the poppies with crops that will provide a standard of living for the farmers. I was there in Helmand [province] the other day… with a full-blown poppy crop sitting there. At the high level, the strategic approach is to create an agriculture capability that moves to what it used to be. Y’know, there was a time a few decades ago where they fed their own people and actually exported agriculture. So I think from an overall strategic approach, that’s where we’re headed. There are some tactical things that we’ve got to work our way through. But, as ambassador [Richard] Holbrooke said, we are out of the eradication business. That’s not the strategy any more.

Danger Room: And you agree with that?

Mullen: Yes, I do. I think it’s got to be a standard of living issue, be an income issue. These farmers, they’ve got to be able to feed their families.

While this isn’t exactly a full-throated endorsement of legalization, Mullen’s comments suggest that the military is willing to make a few tactical concessions for the sake of pacifying Afghanistan.

On a related note, the issue of Afghanistan’s opium production has always struck me as one of the few counterinsurgency-related problems that can be addressed by the United States’ overwhelming superiority in resources and infrastructure. If farmers are selling their crops to opium refiners, why not simply pay above-market prices for poppies to undercut drug suppliers? The estimated cost of this approach certainly isn’t prohibitive:

Most prominent among these proposals is an analysis by the Senlis Council, a drug-policy research group with offices in London, Brussels and Kabul. The council argues that the United States and Britain waste more than $800 million a year, as well as soldiers’ lives, trying futilely to eradicate poppies.

Instead, it calculated two years ago, Afghanistan’s whole crop could be purchased for about $600 million – the “farm gate” price, not the street value of the heroin into which it is refined, which is over $50 billion. (The “farm gate” estimate has gone up as the crop has increased, and may be $1 billion now.)

We’ve also used similar programs to combat the narcotics trade in India and Turkey in the 1970s:

There is an American precedent for buying. In the late 1960s, the Nixon administration, fighting a heroin epidemic, pressured Turkey, then the world’s chief grower, to eradicate its poppy crops.

Unable to do that (both because of corruption and because peasant farmers in Turkey can vote), Turkey started licensing farmers in 1974 to grow poppies for the morphine trade, and the United States gave protected-market status to Turkey and India in 1981, obligating itself to buy 80 percent of the raw material for American painkillers from them. Why not, the Senlis Council and others argue, let Afghanistan join the legitimate supply chain?

Sounds like a reasonable plan to me.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

16 thoughts on ““We are out of the eradication business”

  1. Given that the street value is so much higher than the outlay to purchase the poppies, would a move by the US to buy up the poppy crop simply be met by a higher offer to the farmers from the drug suppliers? Or is the hope that, given a legal avenue through which to sell their poppy crops, the farmers would forgo the potentially greater illegal revenue stream?

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. What disturbs me is the following assumption:

    Other country is growing poppies for opium and associateds production and we have the right to burn these poppies to the ground.

    It’s like *NOBODY* even questions this.

    What gives us the right to burn these flowers in this other country?

    How freakin’ different is this from crazy Muslim police in charge of preserving virtue and preventing vice from smashing pictures of one’s family?

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. I can think of one pretty obvious reason why this proposal has no chance of going anywhere. The campaign commercial writes itself.

    “President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are taking hundreds of millions of dollars from our military in Afghanistan and handing it over to heroin manufacturers. On November 2, send President Obama and his allies in Congress a message that Americans will not tolerate an administration that takes from our troops to give to terrorist-supporting Islamic drug lords.”

    Actually, that’s not remotely senstationalistic enough, but you get the idea.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • @Mark Thompson, How about, “President Obama has found a way to guarantee the nation’s supply of painkillers for hospitals and hospices, and to hit the Taliban’s funding where it hurts. He has ordered the US military to buy up Afghanistan’s opium production for domestic use, thereby taking the drug off the illegal market. Drug companies will bid on the new opium supply and the narcotics will be in hospitals by next fall. Afghan farmers will now have a business relationship with the US, instead of with the Taliban.” You get the idea.

      We don’t have to spend the money, but we can sell the opium to drug companies. I’m sure there’s a way to make it cost-effective, especially when there’s a war on.

      Will the Republicans be able to criticize Obama for getting hospitals and hospices a cheaper supply of opiates, using smartough policy to fight the drug war, while hitting the economics of the Taliban insurgency? I really don’t think so.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  4. Well it’s hopeful. I’ll believe in sensibility from our policy makers on this front when I see it and not before but at least they’re making some intelligent noises which is a damn sight better than things were.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. While I agree (in principle) with the policy, it’s important to remember the various insurgencies in Af-Pak (including but not limited to Taliban) have multiple sources of funding. Kidnapping, local taxation, charities mostly from The Gulf, weapons smuggling. Drugs is only a slice of their income stream.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • @Chris Dierkes,
      Drugs are the major souorce of taliban income in the southern provinces.

      Other sources vary:

      Kidnapping, local taxation – these work only until the growers, newly wealthy with money form thier American customer, buys more guns and gunmen than the taliban can afford.

      Gulf charities – these are small vulnerable states, and not known for caring about civil rights, so a little pressure would go a long away to stopping the flow of love to the Taliban.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  6. I’m very glad to see the US is finally adopting a relatively same policy on poppy-growing in Afghanistan and stopping eradication. I wish they would do the same in Latin America with regards to coca, but I suppose that’s too much to hope for.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *