God Intervenes in Afghan Drug War

...by sending a fungal outbreak that's devoured half the Afghan opium crop. Great news! Less opium means less money for the insurgents who grow it, which means fewer weapons for the Taliban, and a historic (if totally accidental) opening for the U.S. military to crush the terrorists once and for all. Right?

Wrong.

The scarcity dramatically drove up prices so much that officials fear poppy cultivation will prove an irresistible option in the coming year for farmers whom authorities are trying to entice to grow legal crops. And despite the blight, the premium prices probably put about as much drug money into the insurgency's coffers as previously.

In other words, divine intervention just did what eight years of U.S. military occupation couldn't do, namely wipe out half the Afghan opium crop. The result: Absolutely nothing changed. 

Waging war on Afghanistan's top export clearly doesn't work. It also makes zero practical fiscal sense for the country: according to a 2007 Strategic Studies Institute report, Afghanistan produces a monopolistic 92 percent of the world's (valuable) illicit opium. 

Legalization of the opium trade would allow legitimate merchants to compete with the Taliban in the open market, while making Afghanistan's fragile government less dependent on foreign aid and American political and military backing. If the Afghan government could partner with rural opium growers and effectively nationalize part of the country's crop, they could cut into the Taliban's drug profits while producing a consistent revenue stream (important considering the government barely exists outside the capital right now). This isn't a magic bullet for an insanely complicated conflict, but—as events have just demonstrated—wiping out massive swaths of the Afghan opium crop isn't one either.

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  • Paul||

    ...by sending a fungal outbreak that's devoured half the Afghan opium crop.

    Not that I'm making a policy proposal or anything, but why can't we just sprinkle the spores from that fungus everywhere there are opium crops?

    Seems like a peaceful, effective, non-violent way to put a crimp in opium production.

  • jasno||

    You make it sound like we didn't already.

  • Suki||

    Just like 9/11 and the moon landings! I heard one was fake.

  • jasno||

    Except this one would have fit perfectly with our capabilities, goals and desires.

    Sorry for suggesting that - I know the US would never engage in a large-scale herbicide program during war time.

  • Suki||

    What about during a war on drugs?

  • jasno||

    or a war on southeast Asians?

  • ||

    I find it interesting that you regard biological warfare as peaceful and non-violent.

    Perhaps we could do this to the wheat crop in Russia, or the rice crop in China, next time they get out of line. Its peaceful and non-violent, right? Who could object?

  • Suki||

    If we fake it on a sound stage nobody gets hurt.

    Since when was a poppy plant food anyway?

  • Mic||

    Poppy seed is an important food crop.

  • ||

    If we were engaged in a war in China or Russia, it might be fair game.

  • Suki||

    There should be a law against that.

  • ||

    It's more like destroying Dutch tulips than eliminating food sources...

  • Admiral Ackbar||

    "The scarcity dramatically drove up prices so much that officials fear poppy cultivation will prove an irresistible option in the coming year for farmers whom authorities are trying to entice to grow legal crops. And despite the blight, the premium prices probably put about as much drug money into the insurgency's coffers as previously."

    You can't fight market forces.

  • Old Mexican||

    It's a trap!

  • Chicago School Pragmatic Moron||

    You're right! We just need to manipulate the market forces in such a way that people will make the "correct" decision on their own. This is totally how the free market works, when central planners get together and manipulate it in the name of laissez faire capitalism!

  • ||

    Its that damn Basiat and his damn unintended consequences (or perhaps more aptly phrased, logical but non-obvious consequences).
    Well, God can just get in his time machine and make sure Basiat was never born

  • ||

    You can't fight market forces.

    Like hell we can't! It's time for a War on Markets!

  • Old Mexican||

    In other words, divine intervention just did what eight years of U.S. military occupation couldn't do, namely wipe out half the Afghan opium crop. The result: Absolutely nothing changed.

    Basic economics, guys - the prohibition already DISTORTED the price system. Under free market conditions, the higher price of opium (now as a commodity instead of an evil narcotic) would have resulted in competing products filling the void. Instead, since this is a black market we're talking about where other sources of supply are also being restricted, the demand will outstrip supply and raise the prices way above the (otherwise) market clearing price - in other words, a DISTORTION.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    I'm calling bullshit on the whole "nothing changed" business. You lose half your crop to fungus, and your revenue doesn't change? Then you were overproducing before.

  • NeonCat||

    What if we rounded up all the junkies we could find, send them to Afghanistan and told them they could have all the junk they wanted if they just kill Taliban?

    I bet they'd be cheaper than private military companies.

  • cynical||

    But they'd probably just bail and join the poppy farmers, especially when they realized the US wanted to burn the poppies.

    "But why is the rum gone?"

  • jasno||

    I think we already have - most of the ANA seems to be junkies of one sort or another...

  • Pip||

    "If the Afghan government could partner with rural opium growers and effectively nationalize part of the country's crop"

    So this Armin Rosen person is Reason's in-house advocate for socialism? How does that work out?

  • The Thinking Man's NASCAR||

    Collective opium farms?

  • ||

    I think he misspelled "tax".

  • Barack Obama, Opium Chief ||

    As your drug lord, let me make it perfectly clear that my administration had nothing to do with releasing this fungus in order to jack up the price of opium on the world markets.

  • David E. Gallaher/Ruthless||

    Thanks Armin for hitting the poppy smack on the stigma!

  • ||

    produces a monopolistic 92 of the world's (valuable) illicit opium.

    You mean, 92%, right?

  • Daze||

    Anyone know why all the opium comes from Afghanistan? Is it incredibly difficult to grow anywhere else?

  • jasno||

    A friend of a friend once had a backyard full of them after sprinkling a can of store-bought, baking isle seeds throughout his backyard. Once he did that, the damn things kept coming back every year.

    I believe he said they were persian blues, which don't give the best yield but, according to him, were very effective.

    I hear that there are sites on the internet that tell you all about this, but after a certain guy was busted in Seattle a few years back people tend to keep it under their hats.

    I don't know, but I've been told that harvesting opium is very labor intensive and best left to poor people. I've also been told, with no experience whatsoever, that smoking opium is like smoking good hash but without the good feelings - just brain-draining sleepiness. I think that's why my friend of a friend no longer tries to grow poppies.

    Also, I'm pretty sure my friend of a friend did all this years ago - like 10 or more years.

  • DD||

    Hate to break this to yall but even if you totally eliminate poppy growing you probably wouldn't see any effect on the Taliban for quite a few years.

    They've been stockpiling opium by the ton.

  • ||

    I've got an idea. Why don't we just fucking leave? Then it's not our problem anymore.

  • Bingo||

    But the women and children, and the terrorists, and democracy, and freedom, and the drugs!

    Afghanistan is like every single political talking point in one convenient war (and, as with every other "War On", we are making no progress towards a decisive victory).

  • Jorj X. McKie||

    If they could just stop melting little girl faces off with acid... Stop doing crazy shit so we can leave!

  • Almanian||

    Please stop publishing articles about opium. This just makes me miss the opiated hash of my youth. Mmmmmm....

    \daydreaming about misspent (but really, really fun) youth

  • Friendly Neighbor||

    This.

  • ||

    I'm just going to point out to you folks that want to completely eradicate the opium crop...you shouldn't complain about pain the next time you have a medical need for the stuff. We are currently have a shortage of morphine. Why don't we just buy the stuff from the Afghan farmers? Oh yeah, we have a treaty with Turkey (80%) for the stuff and we can't buy what we need from Afghanistan (20%). Why can't we grow it here? Oh yeah, international treaties and the War on Drugs. See, our fearless leaders are only trying to help us...into a cold, sober servitude.

  • Mad Max||

    They should talk to Aldous Huxley about how governments should do servitude the *right* way - hint, not the sober way.

  • Zeb||

    The stupid thing is that opium is a useful crop that is needed for medical purposes. Morphine is in short supply in a lot of places. If we are going to spend billions in Afghanistan, why not use a tiny bit of that money and just buy the whole opium crop? That seems like an incredibly obvious answer that no one should object to. Even if it does make more farmers grow opium, so what? Just buy all of it. That can't possibly cost more than what we spend trying (and failing) to eradicate it.

  • ||

    God is imaginary, he didn't send the fungal outbreak because he doesn't exist.

  • Suki||

    What about Gaea?

  • Mad Max||

    'nationalize part of the country's crop'

    And sell it in the equivalent of government-run ABC liquor stores. Call them OPC - Opium Poppy Control.

  • hmm||

    So drugs are inelastic on both sides. Surprised.

  • asdf||

    this article makes no mention of how the US military, far from trying to reduce the amount of opium grown, has actually been helping afghan farmers grow poppies, guarding their fields and helping transport the crops, which has been thoroughly documented as in the segment linked to below from fox news. so the idea that we failed in achieving our intended goal is, i think, erroneous, because our goal was never to eradicate opium growing there.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Clca6YtYvCI

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