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The War on Drugs vs. The War on Terror:

Josh Strawn has an interesting post on how the War on Drugs is undermining the War on Terror, citing data showing that the misguided US poppy eradication campaign in Afghanistan has enabled the Taliban to earn enormous profits from the illegal drug trade. Most of these profits are only possible because the US and its allies have prevented competition from legal suppliers by targeting their poppy fields.

I have often blogged on the same subject myself see e.g. here and here. As I explained in earlier posts, the poppy eradication campaign not only increases the Taliban's profits from the drug trade, but also antagonizes the numerous Afghan peasants who depend on poppy cultivation for their livelihood. As a result, some of these people have been driven into the arms of the Taliban, and others are at least unwilling to provide information and other aid to the US and the Afghan government.

It is long past time that we prioritized the war against the enemies who want to kill us over the war against those who merely want to us sell us opium.

UPDATE: It's worth nothing that Christopher Hitchens made a similar argument back in 2004 - at a time when the negative consequences of the drug war in Afghanistan were not as clear as they are now. His warning was certainly prescient (HT: VC reader Joe Bingham).

EH (mail):
Something doesn't jibe here. 10 years ago when the Taliban rose to power it banned opium cultivation. It is the Northern Alliance and those areas outside of Taliban control (i.e. our friends) who maintain poppy farms.
7.7.2008 11:04pm
Ilya Somin:
Something doesn't jibe here. 10 years ago when the Taliban rose to power it banned opium cultivation. It is the Northern Alliance and those areas outside of Taliban control (i.e. our friends) who maintain poppy farms.

As I explained in this post, the Taliban has long since reversed its policy on this issue, and is today reaping huge profits from the drug trade - in large part thanks to the US-led poppy eradication campaign. The Taliban was smart enough to learn from its mistakes (at least on this issue). We should do the same.
7.8.2008 12:08am
JB:
Buy up the entire Afghan opium crop and use it for morphine.

This is the most obvious, versatile, and easiest answer to a War on Terror problem out there. Gives the Afghan economy a profitable cash crop, cuts down on illegal drugs, weakens the Taliban's appeal...I suggested this back in 2002 and am mystified that it's not being done.
7.8.2008 12:43am
Malvolio:
Buy up the entire Afghan opium crop and use it for morphine.
Because farmers will react to increased demand by cutting back on production?
I suggested this back in 2002 and am mystified that it's not being done.
What percentage of all land in Afghanistan is used for opium today? How much would be used if the price doubled?
7.8.2008 1:12am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I agree entirely. The problem is that the US has an inordinate fear of opiates, which are valuable and relatively innocuous drugs. Here in Canada, as in some other countries, you don't even need a prescription for codeine. This has not made Canada into a nation of crazed drug addicts.
7.8.2008 2:05am
David Schwartz (mail):
Buy up the entire Afghan opium crop and use it for morphine.
Increased demand will mean increased prices. This will just mean *more* profits for the Taliban.
7.8.2008 2:24am
treebeard (mail):
Here in Canada, as in some other countries, you don't even need a prescription for codeine.

Maybe I should move to Canada. When I was a teenager I had a deviated septum operation, and they prescribed me codeine afterwards. Wow! Long after the pain faded, I was still requesting refills.

This has not made Canada into a nation of crazed drug addicts.

No, because codeine doesn't make you "crazed." But I bet there are lots of Canadians sitting at home all day watching TV or playing video games, and saying, "Man, this is so cool." Serenity now. No wonder Canada needs a socialist economy.
7.8.2008 5:57am
Uthaw:
People who want to sell us opium want to kill us, too.
7.8.2008 6:15am
Sam Hall (mail):
"People who want to sell us opium want to kill us, too."

If it was legal, drug deaths would drop like a rock. There is no quality control on street drugs so there is no way to tell how strong the dose is.
7.8.2008 10:17am
Doc W (mail):
The "War on Terror" and the "War on Drugs" have one big thing in common--each is a war on liberty and limited government. After 9/11 it made sense to retaliate against the Taliban and take a good shot at killing or capturing the al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. And then get out.

Instead, we are still there, no end in sight. Typical government program--another thing WoT and WoD have in common.
7.8.2008 11:03am
darelf:

If it was legal, drug deaths would drop like a rock. There is no quality control on street drugs so there is no way to tell how strong the dose is.


Look, I'm not convinced the "War on Drugs" is a good idea. However, these kinds of arguments are completely bogus.

Just because drugs are regulated and "quality controlled" doesn't mean it will stop the problem. There will always be, and is now, illegal trade in perfectly legal drugs. Making more drugs legal won't solve that problem. Prescription drugs are routinely abused and cause all kinds of problems, including drug-related deaths, even when the person taking the drugs obtained the prescription legally... not to mentioned stolen or redirected drugs.

I'm not saying I have an answer, only that the idea that there is a simple answer to this problem ("make them all legal") is naive and foolish.
7.8.2008 11:33am
CatCube:
What effect will ceasing operations against drug trafficking have on our alliance in Afghanistan? IIRC, the opiates from Afghanistan don't go to the US, they go to Europe--where Afghanistan is still the "good war." I think that dropping this prong of our strategy might cause problems in ISAF.
7.8.2008 12:27pm
Sam Hall (mail):
Prescription drugs can't be used for non-medical reasons legally in this country.

I didn't that all drug deaths would stop nor that it would cure all the problems. I simply said that drug deaths would drop if drugs were made legal and they would. There will always be the drug suicide and the Darwin Award winner.
7.8.2008 12:27pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Buy up the entire Afghan opium crop and use it for morphine.

Increased demand will mean increased prices. This will just mean *more* profits for the Taliban.
While I agree that buying all the opium currently produced will not eliminate the market for opium (to state that is to see why it's silly), that doesn't mean it will result in more profits for the Taliban.

The Taliban doesn't generally make money from growing opium directly; it makes money by protecting opium growers. Protecting them from whom? The Afghan government and its NATO allies. Without the war on drugs, the growers have no need to turn to the Taliban for protection. (And, moreover, the ones that do decide to turn to the Taliban would then find their product costing more than that of the legitimate opium growers, which makes it harder for them to do business.)
7.8.2008 1:56pm
JB:
David Schwartz,
more opium will mean more profits for -whoever controls the area-. The taliban controls what they control because they have the support of the locals, who support them because they allow them to plant the most profitable crop. If we let farmers plant poppies, a major reason to support the Taliban goes up in smoke.

Also, more production isn't bad. We want Afghanistan to be prosperous, and having a lucrative, easy-to-transport cash crop is a good way to do that. If Afghanistan remains poor, no pro-western government will survive.
7.8.2008 1:56pm
davod (mail):
There already licensed commercial growers of opium poppies. Tasmania has one such grower.

The Taliban makes some of its money from growers who pay for protection. Protetion from whom - the Taliban of course. Its the same racket hoods use everywhere to get money.

When the Taliban came to an agreement with the Clinton Administration with regards to opium I do not believe it banned production. They just stopped it leaving the country in return for millions of dollars. They let it go eventually.

The argument for legalizing is always floated out. Imagine, if you will,a time and place(From the Twilight Zone) where all illegal drugs were legal. Life would so much quieter. Less murders from drug gang wars and crime syndicates. Less robberies, etc. What would legalized opium, marijuana and various other sundries do for the country. How did repealling the 18th amenmsent really affect the country?

How would you like your local cop, prosecutor, judge, doctor, airline pilot, teacher, to be using legal drugs drugs. What about everyone in the community walking up in the morning and having a hit of Ganga or khat at breakfast with the orange juice.
7.8.2008 4:45pm
davod (mail):
PS: I should have included what about your boss taking legalized drugs.
7.8.2008 4:47pm
R_S (mail):

How would you like your local cop, prosecutor, judge, doctor, airline pilot, teacher, to be using legal drugs drugs. What about everyone in the community walking up in the morning and having a hit of Ganga or khat at breakfast with the orange juice.


How is that different from what we have today, where your local cop, prosecutor, judge, doctor, airline pilot or teacher could get up in the morning and have a shot of scotch with breakfast? Has legalized alcohol destroyed society? Why is there this belief that everyone out there -- who could abuse alcohol, but don't -- would suddenly be abusing all of these other, now-legal, drugs?

And if you local cop, prosecutor, judge, doctor, airline pilot or teacher got up and had a hit with breakfast, yet didn't otherwise impact their job, why should anyone care? If it DID impact their job, or others, presumably they would suffer the same consequences as if they came to work or went out in public too drunk to function.

We already have legal drugs in this country.
7.8.2008 5:34pm
Oren:
PS: I should have included what about your boss taking legalized drugs.
He'd probably enjoy it and continue on with his productive career?
7.8.2008 11:50pm
Contentious:
Ilya: " It's worth nothing that Christopher Hitchens made a similar argument back in 2004 "

That's an uncharacteristically nasty thing for you to say, professor. Perhaps you meant "noting"?

Noth that I do not bring up Freud...

:-)
7.9.2008 3:27am