The Wrong Plan for Afghanistan's Opium Anne Applebaum's proposal to foster legal Afghan opium ["Ending an Opium War; Poppies and Afghan Recovery Can Both Bloom," op-ed, Jan. 16] is based on a misdiagnosis of the problem. First, there is no licit demand for Afghanistan's enormous supply of opium, currently more than 90 percent of the world's illicit market and almost double the world's entire licit production requirement. The United Nations reports a current global oversupply of opium-based products from existing licit producers. Pouring vastly more legal opium into the world system would cause prices to plummet, making the illicit trade that much more attractive to farmers. Second, Afghanistan produces opium because some regions remain under attack and lack security, to say nothing of the controls that are a prerequisite for any legal trade in narcotics. In the absence of such institutional controls, the distinction between legal and illicit opium is meaningless. Afghanistan needs peace, a flourishing economy and the rule of law. Each of these conditions is undone by narcotics production. Nowhere in the world do narco-warlords willingly relinquish their stranglehold on poor opium farmers, and nowhere in the world do such farmers become rich. The opium trade must be broken, not fostered, before it undoes the rest of Afghanistan.O'Gara first claims there is no global need for more opioid pain relievers, citing the International Narcotics Control Board. That claim is debatable. In its proposal, the Senlis Council begged to differ, citing serious undersupplies, especially in the underdeveloped world. Second, O'Gara suggests that opium is being grown in Afghanistan only because of a lack of security and an effective national state. But the US government's insistence on attacking the poppy crop is precisely what contributes greatly to continued insecurity and political conflict within the country. Does he really think an all-out assault on the poppies is going to bring peace and tranquility? Whether the idea of licensing Afghan opium production is a good idea is open for debate. It is certainly as reasonable a response to the problem as heavy-handed repression efforts, and is much less likely to incite peasant resistance and support for the Taliban. But what is really interesting about all this is the fact that the drug czar's office feels a need to attack supporters of the idea. That suggests the idea is getting enough traction to pose a threat to the drug war as usual. We'll be staying tuned to this debate.
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
After a year of escalating Afghan heroin production, calls are mounting for a shift in U.S. policy aimed at turning Afghanistan's poppy into an economic asset by using it to produce medicinal painkillers.
Backers of the proposal include several leading scientists and economists, as well as some in Congress.
"You can't just cut off the poppies because that's the livelihood of the people who live there," [Rep. Russ] Carnahan said Thursday. "But providing them with alternative legal markets for pain-relief medication is a way to help cut back on that heroin supply."
Congratulations, Russ Carnahan! You solved the riddle. Extra points if you can dumb this down enough to explain it to the drug policy experts at the State Department.
Tom Schweich, a senior State Department official who is spearheading U.S. efforts to curb Afghan narcotics, said he welcomed "creative ideas" but found this one to be unrealistic.
He said Afghan farmers wouldn't have enough economic incentive to turn away from illegal poppy cultivation. He added that Afghanistan lacks the required business infrastructure for processing, manufacturing and distribution, and that the oversight needed to prevent illicit drug trafficking would be near impossible.
Ok, we're listening. Yes, it's complicated situation. So what do you propose?
"You really need to keep it illegal and eradicate it," Schweich said.
Darn, he blew it. For a second there I thought he understood something.
Schweich rattles off a list of reasons why eradication won't work and then, like some sort of involuntary reflex, spontaneously proposes eradication. He sees all the reasons eradication won't work, but he cites them as arguments against Carnahan's plan rather than his own. Such rank incompetence might be funny if the fate of a nation weren't hanging in the balance.