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January 03, 2005

LA Times on Administration's Afghan Opium Quandary

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times reported on a debate erupting within the Bush administration on whether and how to proceed with opium eradication in Afghanistan, which is now the world's largest opium producer. The State Department has asked Congress for $780 million in counternarcotics aid for the country, $152 million of which would go to aerial eradication -- e.g., dumping chemical poisons out of airplanes into the Afghan environment. The Karzai government has pledged a "jihad" against the opium trade but has ruled out aerial spraying and has delayed manual eradication.

A range of current and former officials intoned on the matter with a range of viewpoints. Opium profits almost certainly fund the Taliban and possibly Al Qaeda too, one said, noting how little money was needed to finance the 9/11 attacks vs. how much money drugs can provide. Therefore we need to cut that off. Others pointed out how crop eradication, particularly by air, will help to build for support for the Taliban and generally foment instability -- opium is the mainstay of the nation's economy, and people won't give up their only viable source for earning a livelihood without fighting against those who are trying to take it away, allying with those who are also fighting them, the Taliban's past anti-opium stance notwithstanding.

For all these reasons, the article observes that the administration's three main objectives in Afghanistan -- counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and political stability -- appear to be contradictory. A senior Republican congressional aide acknowledged anonymously that "we still don't have a policy."

The goals are contradictory, but why is that? It's because of the structural problem imposed by drug prohibition. Opium is an underground commodity that distorts social structures and funds crime, sometimes even terrorism, because it is illegal. Legalization would provide a less dangerous, less corrupt framework for controlling the flow of drugs and the money people are paying for them. Governments providing aid to Afghanistan could then work with the Afghan government on regulating the trade in order to reduce the potential for money getting into terrorists' hands in that way, and overall the amounts of money involved would be much less -- the price of drugs would drop -- making it less useful of a venture for terrorist or other criminal organizations. Crime and terrorism expert John Thompson of Canada's Mackenzie Institute has estimated that drug profits account for perhaps a third of the funding of political violence worldwide, and has predicted that legalization would deal terrorist organizations a severe blow -- read the interview Thompson gave Drug War Chronicle in October 2001.

Eradication has never reduced the world's drug supply, only moved it from place to place. Any official who denies or ignores that fact is misleading the public in an extraordinarily dangerous way. They should get real -- they owe it to us.

Click here for LA Times letter to the editor information. Feel free to post your letters back to this blog, as well as letter-to-the-editor information if you see the article syndicated in other papers.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at January 3, 2005 12:46 PM

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