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Anne Applebaum on the The War on Drugs vs. the War on Terror:

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum has an excellent column on the contradiction between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror in Afghanistan. As I have explained time and again (see here, here, and here), our efforts to eradicate poppy production in Afghanistan are driving many Afghan peasants into the arms of the Taliban, and also enable the Taliban to finance itself through the black market drug trade.

Applebaum makes several related points, and also points out that the strategy of legalizing poppy production in order to help curb terrorism was successfully pursued in Turkey, ironically with US support. An excerpt:

Just like Afghanistan, Turkey had a long tradition of poppy cultivation. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey worried that poppy eradication could "bring down the government." Just like Afghanistan, Turkey — this was the era of "Midnight Express"-- was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.

As a result, in 1974 the Turks, with American and U.N. support, tried a different tactic. They began licensing poppy cultivation for the purpose of producing morphine, codeine and other legal opiates. Legal factories were built to replace the illegal ones. Farmers registered to grow poppies, and they paid taxes. You wouldn't necessarily know this from the latest White House drug strategy report-- which devotes several pages to Afghanistan but doesn't mention Turkey — but the U.S. government still supports the Turkish program, even requiring U.S. drug companies to purchase 80 percent of what the legal documents euphemistically refer to as "narcotic raw materials" from the two traditional producers, Turkey and India.

Why not add Afghanistan to this list? ..... [E]ven if the program succeeds in stopping only half of the [illegal] drug trade, a huge chunk of Afghanistan's economy will still emerge from the gray market; the power of the drug barons will be reduced; and, most important, Western money will have been visibly spent helping Afghan farmers survive, instead of destroying their livelihoods. The director of the Senlis Council, a group that studies the drug problem in Afghanistan, told me he reckons that the best way to "ensure more Western soldiers get killed" is to expand poppy eradication.

As they say, read the whole thing.

I'm not sure I agree with all the specifics of the Applebaum's proposed program, and I don't know enough to evaluate some of the details. My own preference would be for a less heavily regulated legalization than what she describes. Be that as it may, the Turkish model, as described by Applebaum, is far preferable to the Bush Administration's dangerously misguided poppy eradication campaign.

donaldk2 (mail):
Yes, the misguided war on drugs is typical Bush. He is very adventurous about the wrong things.
1.16.2007 6:54pm
Steven Plunk (mail):
Donaldk2,

The war on drugs pre-dates this president by many years. Blaming him is completely off the mark.

Until we can do some calculations about the future societal costs of legalization and regulation of illicit drugs I cannot get behind such a proposal. It's tough to be something of a libertarian with that position but the questions are too large not to be answered.
1.16.2007 7:02pm
Ilya Somin:
The war on drugs pre-dates this president by many years. Blaming him is completely off the mark.

It's true that the War on Drugs predates Bush. But the poppy eradication campaign in Afghanistan does not. Moreover, this post is not about drug legalization in the US, but about about ending the Afghan poppy eradication campaign.
1.16.2007 7:05pm
Michael B (mail):
And conflating the two (WoT and poppy war), certainly so in the minds of many Afghanis who are already burdened with many challenges and cultural dynamics, cannot be a good thing. Priorities.
1.16.2007 7:20pm
JB:
During the Dutch Revolt from Spain, the Dutch financed their armies by selling supplies (food, tents, etc) to the Spanish army.

Whenever I read about poppy in Afghanistan I'm reminded of this.
1.16.2007 7:45pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):

Until we can do some calculations about the future societal costs of legalization and regulation of illicit drugs I cannot get behind such a proposal. It's tough to be something of a libertarian with that position but the questions are too large not to be answered.



Stephen, all due respect, please read the original article. The 'legalization' that is referenced is how all (or at least most) the poppies grown (in Turkey)are turned into morphine and other pharmaceutical opiates, instead of heroin. That isn't illicit drug legalization by any standard. The US made a commitment to buy all the poppies that they could grow and turn them into medicine. that does 2 things. Keeps the heroin supply low, and keeps the subsistance farmers gainfully employed without having to resort to supplying drug cartels with raw materials. it was accompianied, i believe, by some of the most ruthless suppression of drug cartels ever seen. (which i really don't think is a bad thing.)

Respectfully,
Pol
1.16.2007 8:16pm
Malvolio:
Perhaps it's time for a separate peace for the War on Drugs to fight the War on Terrorism.

If my choices are 2% of the population being drug-abusers (instead of 1%) or 1% of the population being victims of terrorism (instead of 0%), it's an easy call.
1.16.2007 10:20pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Religion motivates many of the terrorists, and religion motivates the war on drugs. It's hard to get away from god in these things.

The prohibition movement grew out of the churches in the nineteenth century. It included all mind altering drugs, not just alcohol, and succeeded in outlawing everything exept alcohol.

So, now we have Islamic elements trying to kill us, and we have the outgrowth of Christian elements impairing our efforts to stay alive. Perhaps Dawkins is on to something.
1.16.2007 11:38pm
Ricardo (mail):
I don't know much about the Turkish approach but I know in India poppy cultivation is heavily regulated by a central government bureau that sets prices, buys opium from farmers and monitors yields very carefully. A farmer who reports and sells a small amount of opium for his given amount of acreage will be permanently banned from growing poppies to prevent diversion.

The lesson for Afghanistan is that regulated opium production requires a strong central government and relatively non-corrupt people to administer it (despite India's reputation for corruption, diversion appears to be relatively rare). Afghanistan has neither of these things at the moment, unfortunately. Warlords will still find it profitable to divert opium to the black market unless there are severe and enforceable consequences for doing so.
1.17.2007 12:35am
Bishop:
"The prohibition movement grew out of the churches in the nineteenth century. It included all mind altering drugs, not just alcohol, and succeeded in outlawing everything exept alcohol."

A) they did succeed in prohibiting alcohol before realizing within about 10 years that outlawing something many people did only resulted in gangsters getting rich and a rise in general disrespect towards the law as a whole instead of changing the desired behavior

B) some of the laws (I believe specifically w/regards to marijuana, if the History Channel is to be believed) were enacted in the 1930's as Jim Crow laws against blacks in the south, and in the Southwest against immigrants from Mexico/Latin America.

Overall, I've got ideological and practical differences with pretty much the entire War on Drugs, so Applebaum's article is preaching to the choir, but I have to think it would be sensible to legalize production of opium in one country (where eradication clearly isn't working anyway) rather than lose a war.

Ricardo certainly helps point out how messy implementation would be, but I've got to think we can do it, and maybe even turn it into an advantage. What if you put NATO/Afghan army forces in charge of monitoring and, more importantly, distributing the money for the program? (Moreso NATO because I'm loathe to give the Afghan army control over large sums of money.) If ordinary farmers began seeing NATO/American soldiers as the ones who paid them and secured their livelihood rather than the ones trying to destroy it, that might help change their support more to our side than the Taliban's, no?
1.17.2007 1:15am
guest '83:
I dont thnk the prohibitions in the soviet empire were motivated by religious people. and there have been buddhist and daoist and hindu prohibitions tto, not only atheist and christin prohibitions
1.17.2007 4:56am
AppSocRes (mail):
The War on Drugs has been lost for over forty years. When we finally surrender maybe we can more succesfully prosecute the war on terrorism.
1.17.2007 10:40am
Kevin P. (mail):
Elliot123:

The prohibition movement grew out of the churches in the nineteenth century. It included all mind altering drugs, not just alcohol, and succeeded in outlawing everything exept alcohol.

I thought that prohibitions on drugs were pushed (no pun) by early 20th century progressives, for our own good, along with bans on prostitution and carrying concealed weapons.

Prohibition of alcohol was pushed by churches and enthusiastically endorsed and supported by many sections of society including the women's suffrage movement.

We need to get away from this whole mindset that the only way to deal with a social "ill" is for the government to ban it.
1.17.2007 10:43am
Elliot123 (mail):
The churches have a bad habit of trying to get the government to prohibit with the gun what they cannot prohibit with the cross. If the churches were really effective at their claimed expertise, there would be no need for the government to enforce such regulations.
1.17.2007 5:36pm