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The War on Drugs vs. the War on Terror - Redux:

Time and again, on this blog, I have warned that the War on Drugs is undermining the War on Terror in Afghanistan (see here, here, here, and here). As I explained in earlier posts, it does so in three separate ways: By diverting valuable resources away from military missions to poppy eradication; by creating a black market that provides the Taliban with the lion's share of its income; and by antagonizing rural Afghans who then start to support the Taliban or at least become less likely to provide valuable assistance and information to NATO and Afghan government forces. If the poppy eradication campaign were ended and opium production in Afghanistan legalized, legitimate businesses would begin to compete with the Taliban, and poppy growers would no longer have an incentive to support them.

In this recent Washington Post article, Misha Glenny - who is writing a book about the misguided global War on Drugs, provides further grist for my mill:

Despite the presence of 35,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, the drug trade there is going gangbusters. According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan opium production in 2006 rose a staggering 57 percent over the previous year. Next month, the United Nations is expected to release a report showing an additional 15 percent jump in opium production this year while highlighting the sobering fact that Afghanistan now accounts for 95 percent of the world's poppy crop....

In the past two years, the drug war has become the Taliban's most effective recruiter in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's Muslim extremists have reinvigorated themselves by supporting and taxing the countless peasants who are dependent one way or another on the opium trade, their only reliable source of income. The Taliban is becoming richer and stronger by the day, especially in the east and south of the country. The "War on Drugs" is defeating the "war on terror."

Glenny notes that the War on Drugs has had similar perverse effects elsewhere in the world. As they say, read the whole thing.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration remains committed to waging a large-scale poppy eradication campaign in Afghanistan, and the Democratic Congress has shown no inclination to challenge this policy.

So let me once again pose two questions that I articulated in earlier posts on this topic, one to drug war supporters, and one to congressional Democrats:

1. Even if you disagree with me on the overall desirability of the War on Drugs, is fighting the Afghan drug trade really more important than fighting the War on Terror? If one gets in the way of the other, should we not sacrifice the campaign against Afghan poppies rather than the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda?

2. Congressional Democrats say that they are serious about fighting the War on Terror, and have repeatedly emphasized (with some justification) that the Bush Administration has dropped the ball in Afghanistan. If you truly are serious about improving the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, why not start by denying the use of US government funds for poppy eradication campaigns in that country? Why not instead devote those funds (at least $600 million for last year alone) to military operations and infrastructure development? You can simultaneously improve the conduct of the war and repudiate a failed Bush Administration policy. What's not to like?

Yes, the general public probably won't support a complete repeal of the War on Drugs here in the US. But they are unlikely to care much (or even know about) the elimination of poppy eradication programs in Afghanistan. In any event, Congress' record-low approval rating has nowhere to go but up!

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The War on Drugs Undermines the War on Terror Yet Again:
  2. The War on Drugs vs. the War on Terror - Redux:
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The War on Drugs Undermines the War on Terror Yet Again:

Over the last two years, I have written numerous posts about the ways in which the War on Terror in Afghanistan is being undermined by our misguided War on Drugs (see here for my most recent post on this subject, and links to earlier ones). In this article on Slate, Joel Cohen and Bennett L. Gershman provide yet another example:

By all appearances, Haji Bashaar Noorzai is a scoundrel. A shadowy figure with ties to the Taliban, Noorzai is heavily involved in international heroin trafficking, according to a federal indictment that is pending against him in New York. But he is a tribal rogue whom U.S. terrorism fighters have relied on, while looking away from his darker side as a dope dealer. For years, the relationship was mutually beneficial—Noorzai helped U.S. authorities uncover huge numbers of terrorist weapons, including Stinger missiles, and in return he got to ply his drug trade with impunity.

In 2004, it appears, Noorzai was invited to the United States for further briefing on his undercover work by two freelance "contractors" associated with the FBI, who told Noorzai they were FBI and Defense Department agents. He was assured that he would not be arrested, and could return home whenever he liked. The contractors introduced Noorzai to actual federal drug agents, who warmly welcomed him. He was lodged in a fancy New York hotel and debriefed for 10 days. And then he was arrested for drug trafficking. For more than two years since then, he has sat in jail.

Noorzai may indeed be a "scoundrel," one who may have committed crimes worse than drug trafficking. But it is the latter sin that got him arrested by federal agents. As Cohen and Gershman point out, other Afghan warlords and drug dealers are unlikely to cooperate with the US against Al Qaeda and the Taliban if doing so might land them in a federal prison courtesy of the Justice Department. And they are especially unlikely to do so if promises of immunity issued by the Pentagon or the FBI can be violated by the DOJ at any time. Whether or not the DOJ's actions in this case were legal, they represent spectacular stupidity from the standpoint of waging the War on Terror. Which is more important: punishing a drug trafficker or improving our ability to get intelligence on terrorists? The Bush Administration's priority seems to be the former; or at least that's what the relevant Justice Department officials seem to think. If the next president reverses these priorities, that will be an important sign that he or she is truly serious about winning the War on Terror.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The War on Drugs Undermines the War on Terror Yet Again:
  2. The War on Drugs vs. the War on Terror - Redux:
42 Comments