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Getting the War on Drugs out of the Way of the War on Terror:

Over the last year, I have repeatedly explained how the Bush Administration's ill-advised efforts to fight the War on Drugs in Afghanistan are undermining the War on Terror there by antagonizing Afghan civilians who depend on the drug trade for a living, and enabling the Taliban to finance itself through the illegal drug trade (see here, here, here, and here). And, lo and behold, the Administration might have finally learned its lesson on this crucial issue. According to this AP report, NATO forces are conducting a major offensive against Taliban forces in Western Afghanistan and are deliberately "turning a blind eye to the poppy crop, which supplies most of the world's opium and heroin, for fear of antagonizing the many farmers who depend on it."

I hasten to add that it is not clear whether this signals a general change in policy, or is just limited to this one operation. It is also not clear whether the policy change originated with the Bush Administration, other NATO allies, commanders on the ground or a combination of all three. I also do not mean to suggest that the policy was changed because of my criticisms. Far more likely that it was changed because key officials finally drew some long-overdue lessons from events on the ground.

Be that as it may, the new policy at least could not have been adopted without the Administration's consent. If they show equal willingness to learn from their other mistakes, we might actually win the war . . .

Owen Hutchins (mail):
Heroin kills more people every year in this country than terrorism does.
5.1.2007 6:56am
Cenrand:
"Heroin kills more people every year in this country than terrorism does."

And tobacco and alcohol kill exponentially more than that...
5.1.2007 9:03am
eforhan (mail):
Heroin kills more people every year in this country than terrorism does.


Got statistics? Or did you just pull that out of the air?

It could also be argued that the WoT has prevented many deaths.

Ilya, what about introducing some sort of profitable crop? Or is the problem that there is nothing as money-making as Poppies?
5.1.2007 9:30am
Turnow:
Heroin does in fact kill more people in the USA than does terrorism and more folks die from legal pharmaceuticals than from heroin. So what? Such facts aren't remotely related to the subject of the post to which you commented.
5.1.2007 9:45am
Lior:
I may be mistaken, but I was under the impression the US has left Afghanistan to the rest of NATO. I would therefore suspect that this signifies a policy difference between the US and its allies.
5.1.2007 10:16am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I may be mistaken, but I was under the impression the US has left Afghanistan to the rest of NATO. I would therefore suspect that this signifies a policy difference between the US and its allies.
I think that you would surprise CENTCOM and the 82nd Airborne who seem to think that they are still operating in Afganistan. You can typically find photos of our military there at the CENTCOM U.S. Forces - Afganistan site.
5.1.2007 10:41am
Achillea:
Aren't there legal pharmaceuticals that are opium-based? Why don't we just buy the crop ourselves?
5.1.2007 10:42am
DWPittelli (mail) (www):
Achillea,
Buying it ourselves is what we decided to do with Turkey, a program I understand has worked pretty well. And that may make sense in Afghanistan as well. But of course that does make it hard to prevent other farmers from selling their opium into the black market, especially in a place without competent, honest and thoroughly in-control government, which can restrict acreage as well as buy up the supply. We also have a limited demand for pharmaceutical opiates, and so would probably be buying up opiates and then destroying them. Of course, that's been our answer to other farm commodities in this country.
5.1.2007 10:57am
DWPittelli (mail) (www):
I don't see how we can keep the Taliban, and other enemies in Afghanistan who are more ruthless than us, from getting a big cut of the farmers' heroin profits, so long as heroin is illegal (and super-profitable) here.

Whether or not the program does "work" in any meaningful sense, any bets as to how long before we are inundated with stories about the horrors of heroin, and decrying CIA involvement in the trade, through Air America, etc., going back to Vietnam?
5.1.2007 11:02am
Ken Arromdee:
Falling into live volcanoes kills fewer people than heroin. I would not, however, use those death figures to show that you shouldn't mind falling into a live volcano.
5.1.2007 11:25am
taney71:
Aren't there many reports that the funds made off of the heroin crops are used to support terrorist groups? If true, then trying to stop the farming of this drug would aid the war on terror.
5.1.2007 11:54am
Orielbean (mail):
National average heroin deaths in US are pegged at 5.4 per 100,000. From older DAWN estimates and two national studies.

How about a plan to subsidize the agriculture in some other manner? Better idea than buying the dope from them! Encourage to grow some other useful crop and give them a preferred market advantage to do so. Try the carrot, not the stick.
5.1.2007 12:17pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Ignoring the problems of opium cultivation is a sure way to lose the war as opium production funds the warlords, the Taliban, and corrupts the central government in Kabul. Even if we do manage to defeat the Taliban, Afghanistan will just descend into a narcoterrorist state run by clans of mafioso, rather like Columbia at the height of the cocaine cartels.

But I guess that is pure capitalism, so the libertarians will be happy.
5.1.2007 12:20pm
submandave (mail) (www):
A phased buy-back program makes sense to me. Start payments to poppy growers contingent upon a crop transition plan and measurable progress toward elimination. This keeps the honest farmer and his family alive and not beholden to the Taliban, provides enhanced control over the crop itself and allows the necessary time for conversion to other legal proffitable activities.
5.1.2007 12:23pm
Hattio (mail):
So, if we are finally learning from our mistake which war might now be winnable? The War on Terror or the War on Drugs? I would note that one is a war on a tactic and the other a war on a physical thing. Neither is winnable, as winning is currently defined. But, the war in Afghanistan? That is definitely winnable.
5.1.2007 12:46pm
JB:
In the 1950s, the US took deliberate steps to stop Turkish opium from turning into heroin and coming here--they made arrangements to buy it up and turn it into morphine.

I see no reason whatsoever why we can't make a similar arrangement for the Afghans. That would turn the tide--they could sell their most profitable crop to a huge market which they would have incentives to be nice to.
5.1.2007 12:56pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
People in chronic pain chronically take pain relievers.

The Pain in the Brain.

final two paragraphs:

All this corroborates what I have been saying for years. The idea that "drugs cause addiction" is superstition. People in chronic pain chronically take drugs for pain relief. It doesn't matter if the pain is from a broken bone or rape memories. The same drugs work to provide relief.

The drug war is a persecution of people in pain.
5.1.2007 1:05pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
BTW Milton Friedman calls the drug war a socialist enterprise.

A price support mechanism for criminals.
5.1.2007 1:11pm
Adeez (mail):
While the fact that heroin kills more Americans than terrorism may not be relevant to this particular post, it's still an important point.

We have a government that uses a "War on Terror" as pretense to invade nations, evade civil liberties, etc. Considering that everyday things (like alcohol and traffic accidents, for example) are FAR more likely to affect Americans than terrorism, it certainly helps put things in perspective.
5.1.2007 1:11pm
whit:
first of all, disclaimer: im against the drug war

with that in mind, yes certain drugs DO cause addiction

some drugs are addictive, some aren't. addictive is not merely an "i want it" thing. it readjusts your body's homeostasis, so the presence of the drug is seen as normal, and intense discomfort/illness/etc. is seen when it's not present

"We have a government that uses a "War on Terror" as pretense to invade nations, evade civil liberties, etc. "

in your opinion. if the terrorists win, we won't have any civil liberties. how well are gay people treated in their countries? how about christians? women?

"Considering that everyday things (like alcohol and traffic accidents, for example) are FAR more likely to affect Americans than terrorism"

yes. part of the difference is that, to a large extent those risks are changeable via personal behavior. i can choose to drive responsibly and i can choose not to overindulge in alcohol. i am still vulnerable to a car accident of course. and we do take steps to minimize those risks (DUI checkpoints (although not legal in my state), traffic enforcement, traffic safety campaigns, seatbelt laws etc.)

similarly, we take major steps to decrease the risk/threat of terrorism

and we have been very successful (in the USA).

we have thwarted numerous plots (port angeles anybody)?

so, it's kind of silly to downplay the small risk of being a victim of terrorism in our country, since it is significantly attributable to our efforts to fight it

furthermore,l the risks of the terrorists succeeding is a much greater systemic risk.
5.1.2007 1:39pm
whit:
also, you can CHOOSE not to take heroin. so, it poses ZERO risk to you.

you can't say the same about terrorism.

traffic accidents are a better analogy.
5.1.2007 1:40pm
Shelby (mail):
everyday things (like alcohol and traffic accidents, for example) are FAR more likely to affect Americans than terrorism

Quite true. However, it may take continued effort to keep it that way.
5.1.2007 1:42pm
crane (mail):

if the terrorists win, we won't have any civil liberties. how well are gay people treated in their countries? how about christians? women?


Do you really believe "the terrorists" have the ability to conquer America? This isn't the Soviet Union we're talking about here; Al-Quaeda has enough followers to be a serious nuisance, but there's no way they could come up with the military strength necessary to take away your civil liberties by force.

Besides, it's much easier to scare us into giving up our own rights in the name of security.
5.1.2007 2:40pm
Alan Crowe (mail) (www):
The lethal dose of heroin is about five times the recreational dose. When heroin has been legal addicts have generally succeeded at staying within this fairly tight safety margin. This is surprising. Tolerance to heroin builds up rapidly and affects dosage by more than the factor of five safety margin. Heavy users take doses so large that they would kill unhabituated users. Nevertheless fatalities are avoided.

Prohibition changes the situation. Supplies vary widely in purity and are obtained irregularly. Addicts may lose some of their habituation due to periods of imprisionment or interruptions to supply. The uncertainties about purity and habituation lead to deaths through overdose.

There are no heroin deaths as such, it is prohibition that kills. "Drug misuse and social cost" British Journal of Hospital Medicine, Vol 52 No 213, 1994, reports the Widnes experiment which has the usual outcome. Heroin deaths were zero. Overdosing on suspect street drugs was eradicated.

The reason to refrain from recreational use of heroin is the same as the reason for indulging in it: it is very effective at providing relief for emotional pain. This leads to a kind of "leprosy of the soul". Absent prohibition it is not a threat to body.
5.1.2007 3:04pm
Adeez (mail):
"We have a government that uses a "War on Terror" as pretense to invade nations, evade civil liberties, etc. "

"in your opinion. if the terrorists win, we won't have any civil liberties."

With respect, Whit, my initial statement is hard to characterize as "opinion." The only word in that sentence that could be controversial is "pretense." I mean, there's no question that "War on Terror" has been used to curtail civil liberties and invade Iraq. And, considering that everyone should finally realize that Iraq was invaded for reasons other than fighting the "War on Terror," how could it not be a pretense?
5.1.2007 3:29pm
Just Some Poor Schmuck (mail):
The way to deal with the opium crop is to contract with farmers to buy their crops. We need to combine that with our own version of "plata o plomo." If they refuse to contract with us or are discovered to be selling to another buyer, We come and destroy their entire crop. If the farmers cooperate with us then we provide protection.

In this way we make dealing with us more attractive than dealing with the Taliban or at least more healthy.

It is kind of harsh, but that is the language of the Hindu Kush.
5.1.2007 3:49pm
Kelvin McCabe:
While I agree with the poster's insights and agree with NATO's strategy here in avoiding the poppy issue, I disagree that we can simply encourage aghanistan farmers to switch crops. Afghanistan isn't Iowa or Kansas.

I am willing to bet that the reason marijuana and poppy are grown there is precisely because few other crops can succeed, or would succeed given how crappy the conditions for growing crops are. In addition, the afghan population, historically one of the poorest in the world (for a reason), does not have the resources to buy large quanitities of fertilizer or pesticides or modern farming equipment as is common here.

Sure, there may be areas of Aghanistan where this could theoretically work, but im sure the afghans, over hundreds of generations, would know which crops will grow successfully in a specific area and which won't. I fail to believe that the afghani farmers simply wont grow food or trade crops because poppy fetches a "higher price". The farmers at the point of distribution arent selling heroine for 100 a gram, contrary to what anyone believes. Once the opium is out of aghanistan, the price increases exponentially as it moves around the globe and this is directly related to its illegal status and the risk involved in drug trafficking. The farmers are still severely poor, though in the long run the street dealer at the end of the line makes thousands percent more than the farmer himself. An infinitely small percentage of that income actually goes to the individual farmer, if at all. Besides, how do you teach an afghan farmer, who has grown poppy his whole life and who has little or no education, to simply walk away from the one thing he knows he can do? Good luck with that.
5.1.2007 4:25pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Ignoring the problems of opium cultivation is a sure way to lose the war as opium production funds the warlords, the Taliban, and corrupts the central government in Kabul. Even if we do manage to defeat the Taliban, Afghanistan will just descend into a narcoterrorist state run by clans of mafioso, rather like Columbia at the height of the cocaine cartels.
No. Colombia (not "Columbia") at the height of the cocaine cartels was not the result of "ignoring" cocaine production. It was a result of the war on drugs.

Production of legal products does not lead to "productoterrist states run by clans of mafioso."
5.1.2007 6:36pm
Falafalafocus (mail):
While I agree that we should, as a general rule, get out of the drug war, I am not sure I understand this strategy and I believe that we would need an effective exit strategy (to borrow a phrase from my more liberal colleagues here) before we simply walk out of that war.

If we were to go cold turkey and legalize, pharmacudical industries would likely set up satellites colonies (for lack of a better phrase) in places like Afghanistan. The result is that the same Warlords and corrupt government officials would receive at least a cut of the legal market. The drug dealers would be dealt a death blow, but the narcoterrorists would not be horribly harmed. (At least that's how I see it going, with my extremely limited knowledge of international drug legalization role playing). If I am right, therefore, any legalization in the U.S. would require an aggressive move to corner the market in the drugs prior to the legalization, so as to take the product's profit away from the warlords, terrorists, and government officials.
5.1.2007 6:54pm
whit:
actually, you are correct. it is the word "pretense" i object to. if you are using that word, you are stating your opinion.

we can all agree (i would hope) that bushco was wrong about their iraq intel (as was most of the world's intel agencies but i digress).

however, it is your OPINION that they knew the intel did not support the war, and that they use the war as a PRETENSE to violate civil rights.

like many do when discussing politics, people insert their opinions and state them as fact.

if you think iraq was invaded other than to further the war on terror, it's not enough to show it was invaded based on bad intel. you would need to prove that it was "a lie". that's your opinion, but it's hardly proven
5.1.2007 6:57pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Production of legal products does not lead to "productoterrist states run by clans of mafioso."

Oh really, what is Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Niger, or any other backwards, mineral rich, third world dictator who runs a country with an iron fist while getting rich off of its mineral wealth while its people starve.
5.1.2007 11:51pm
maurile (mail) (www):
"Heroin kills more people every year in this country than terrorism does."

That's because of the War on Drugs. Laboratory-grade heroin is actually relatively safe. Adulterated street-grade heroin is what kills people.

Before heroin became illegal early in the 20th century (before which it was manufactured by Bayer and sold in drug stores as a pain-reliever), addiction and health problems caused by heroin were a much smaller problem than they are now.
5.2.2007 4:11am
whit:
maurile, as a cop with TONS of heroin investigations under my belt (i bot it several dozen times undercover), you are 100% correct.

the problem with street grade heroin is you never know what you are going to get. it *is* like a "box of chocolates".

heroin, while being immensely addictive, has the quality of allowing people to maintain and be pretty darn normal when "on". withdrawal turns them into wretches (see: trainspotting), but when on a dose, they are generally pretty frigging harmless.
5.2.2007 1:16pm
hanmeng (mail) (www):
To me, "getting the war on drugs out of the way of the war on terror" means abandoning the war on drugs. That may sound like a bad thing, but what I've read on the subject has convinced me that maurile, Alan Crowe, and whit are correct about the supposed harm heroin causes. Besides, since prices are driven up by illegality, isn't it better to take away a source of income from the Taliban?
5.2.2007 3:11pm
whit:
i am not going to say heroin does not cause harm. i am just saying the govt. should not criminalize it's use.

it is true that used in maintenance doses, it is not very harmful. that's true of opioids in general.

fwiw, there are plenty much safer drugs that are criminalized due to hysteria and we best attack them first.

but remember, this is the same govt. (well, not quite the same) that attempted to ban EPHEDRA despite DSHEA.

and i can tell you that Ephedra is exceptionally safe, but that didn't matter to the supplement nazis (which of course really came down to big pharma's influence and 'saving the children')

canada, believe it, is MUCH worse than we are in regards to supplements. which is not surprising for a nannystate.
5.2.2007 5:36pm