Over the last two years, I have repeatedly blogged about how the War on Drugs is undermining the War on Terror in Afghanistan (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here). Recently, the Boston Globe had a good editorial summarizing the issue, and holding out a small ray of hope that the Obama Administration might change things:
The Obama administration is committing 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Yet as the United States works to stabilize that country, the most important decisions don't just involve troop and funding levels. Also vital is ending the prohibition on growing opium poppies - for the policy is a key factor in Afghanistan's economic and security crisis.
Since the US invasion in 2001, the American and Afghan governments have made the poppy-growing areas of Afghanistan, which produce 90 percent of the world's opium, a major front in the war on drugs. Yet despite eight years of efforts to eliminate the crop, farmers keep growing poppies, and the crop still reaches the black market....
Eradication is not just an ineffective strategy, but also hurts the security interests of Afghanistan and Western governments. While the United States invests $1 billion in eradication efforts each year, the Taliban profits by purchasing poppy from farmers who have no one else to sell to, and selling it to the black market. Also, the eradication policy fuels anti-Western hatred when farmers become sympathetic to insurgent groups after the US and Afghan governments burn or spray their only source of income.
The eradication policy remains in place even though it is widely recognized as a failure. Richard Holbrooke, Obama's new envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, last year called the eradication program "the single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy."
Holbrooke is the Admnistration's point man on Afghanistan and Pakistan. I'm not holding my breath on this. But maybe, just maybe, he can persuade the President to finally end "the single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy" and get on with winning the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The administration has often emphasized that winning the War on Terror in Afghanistan will be its highest foreign policy priority. If it really is, Obama should be willing to prioritize it ahead of poppy eradication. As the Globe points out, a strategy of partial legalization has successfully deprived terrorists of income from illegal drugs in Turkey, a policy enacted with US and NATO support.
Perhaps Obama can get the War on Drugs out of the way of the War on Terror in Afghanistan as well. That would be a good example of real change we can believe in.