Editorial: It's Everybody Else Who's Crazy

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
There's an article appearing in the upcoming New York Times Magazine this weekend, pre-released online, that would be funny -- if it weren't appearing in one of the world's most influential publications, that is, and if it hadn't been written by someone who until recently had great influence in an area of policy that he so woefully misinterprets. In "Is Afghanistan A Narco-State?," former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Thomas Schweich blasts Afghans, Europeans, Democrats, the media -- even the Pentagon -- for "preventing the implementation of an effective counterdrug program."

As Jacob Sullum points out in Reason, the answer to the question of whether Afghanistan is a narco-state is "yes." But what Schweich doesn't ask is, why does opium have this power to corrupt governments, empower extremists, warp the economy of an entire nation? After all, there is plenty of legal opium growing around the world, for medical uses, that doesn't have this effect. The answer is: Afghanistan's opium crop is illegal. But because lots of people still want opium and its derivative products like heroin, for their illegal uses, and are willing to pay lots of money for them, there are others who are willing to take the risk that engaging in illegal activity entails, in order to earn the heightened profit that the illegality and risk makes available. In other words, it is drug prohibition that has turned Afghanistan into a narco-state.

Schweich points out that there are places where the opium crop got pushed out before -- Guatemala, nearby Southeast Asia, Pakistan -- and that's what he wants to see in Afghanistan. But another obvious question that he fails to ask is, did this actually reduce the supply of opium and opiates? Or did it simply move the growing to other countries? (Hint: It moved to Afghanistan -- the country we're talking about -- right next to Pakistan.)

The other obvious question is, why did all those different people -- all those different kinds of people -- fail to support Schweich's agenda? After all, there couldn't be any good reason not to support releasing large quantities of poisonous chemicals into the air (for eradication); or not to try to wipe out an enormous fraction of Afghanistan's economy and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, at the very time when the Taliban wants to win their loyalty, could there?

Maybe it's because these Afghans and Europeans and US military officials aren't crazy. Maybe it's because they've actually listened to what scholars have to say about this: eradication doesn't work, it drives farmers into the hands of the Taliban, security has to come first, you can't just tell a hundred thousand people in the world's fifth poorest nation to give up their primary income source with no viable replacement. Could they have taken the positions they've taken, made the decisions they've made, because they are intelligent and informed and logical and practical?

To the Schweichs of the world, it's everybody else who's crazy -- or wrong, or corrupted -- anyone but him. And no matter how many times his policies fail to produce the desired result when measured meaningfully, it's okay. Because that's a detail that doesn't merit asking a question about -- certainly not in an article written for the New York Times -- and he's busy fighting drugs. Which obviously we have to continue to do, in the way we have done before -- because -- because we just do. Evidently no matter what, as far as the Schweichs of the world are concerned.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Blaming others

Dear David,
Well said, let me revise (in quotes)your final two sentences to read: Because that's a detail that doesn't merit asking a question about -- certainly not in an article written for the New York Times -- and he's busy fighting drugs. Which obviously we have to continue to do, in the way we have done before -- because -- because "that's what keeps him well employed".. Evidently no matter what, as far as the Schweichs of the world are concerned.

Jerry Sutliff

Waaaa?

Borden........You have the right idea, but your article is crap. There is too much opinion and not enough facts. The people you are trying to reach are not going to read this commentary simply due to the lack of undeniable information.

Re:Waaa?

You do know what an editorial is right?

Point of View

I sometimes read the articles in stop the drug war, but by now anyone "who is really concerned' can see that the rhetoric written here is just that (words),. I like to hear anyone who may speak out against the failed drug policies this country shoves down the throat of the world, but, lets face it, "until" the citizens of the world decide that enough is enough the wealthy, and the powerful will continue to spin us, and innocent people will suffer and die.

Word Power and the Drug War

Tim Leary was fond of portraying Solzhenitsyn as an author who would ‘beat you with his cane’ if anyone said to him words were just words.  For Solzhenitsyn, and many others, a simple paragraph, a well-turned sentence, a catch-phrase, can work magic to win battles and even bring down governments.

Phrases and battle slogans are the rich growth soil of revolutions and revolutionaries.  History is replete with ‘We the people’ making a difference with words that sustain and focus our efforts to achieve ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’

In the last decade, the power of Internet drug-reform sites and blogs has transformed the drug war from a one-sided dictation of words by paid bureaucrats and corporatists to an open forum of words of common experience and wisdom emanating from an unpaid and diverse citizenry, all of which is getting serious play in the mainstream media.  It’s not that we’re just seeing a revolution on the Internet.  The Internet is the revolution.

Giordano

borden's picture

what scholars have to say

Friends,

I'm glad that our anonymous friend feels I "have the right idea," and that's the main thing. But as was pointed out in another reader's response, my piece was an editorial. Follow the link I included in the editorial about what scholars have to say, and you'll find comments made by CNN Afghanistan and terrorism analyst Peter Bergen in response to a question I posed at a forum last year. So it's not just my opinions, it's the view of Afghanistan policy experts. (I didn't ask him to comment on prohibition, and he didn't, but he provided some useful insights.)

Also, for those craving more facts now, just follow the "Opium Production" link at the end of the article and you'll find many articles we've published on this topic, including many facts.

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

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