Plan Afghanistan

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Efforts to eradicate opium poppies in Afghanistan make efforts to eradicate coca in Colombia look like a smashing success. The New York Times reports:

Since beginning work last month, the country's Central Poppy Eradication Force, an American-trained group, has destroyed less than 250 acres, according to the two American officials. Its original goal was to eradicate 37,000 acres, but that target has recently been reduced to 17,000 acres. With the poppy harvest already under way, the actual eradication levels will probably be far lower, the American officials said.

The [State Department's] annual drug-trafficking report, released in March, warned that Afghanistan was "on the verge of becoming a narcotics state."

With opium accounting for as much as 60 percent of GDP, Afghanistan seems to be past that verge. A serious attempt to reverse the situation would cause severe economic dislocation, alienate farmers, ignite widespread protests, and compromise the war on terrorism. And to what end? As the experience with coca in South America (not to mention the experience with opium in Turkey, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Laos, and Burma) has shown, drug production can be pushed around, but it cannot be eliminated.

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  1. Serious question: can anybody think of another example of an ostensibly democratic nation wasting so much time, money, effort and lives on such an utter failure? Even Prohibition pooped out after a little over a decade. The medieval Catholic Church spent a lot of effort trying to stop scientific progress, but that wasn’t a democracy. I’m just trying to figure out if there’s any sort of historical precedent for this lunacy.

  2. The precedent occured last week and last year and ten years ago. It was such a dismal failure each time that it had to be tried again. Because the three words you will never, ever hear from a politician are: I was wrong.

  3. Now I’m all for dumping the war on drugs, but ever since the war on terror got rolling I’ve wondered why we can’t stop the Afghanistan opium trade. We knew (well, I’d assume the administration knew, but their intelligence was rather shoddy back then) that the Afghans have always been huge producers of opium. We have now “owned” that country for a while. We have unlimited military access to anywhere we want to go. And yet they’re cranking out opium like there’s no tomorrow? What gives? If we can’t stop the opium trade in a country we control, what makes these idiots think they’re going to stop drug trafficking anywhere else?

  4. I know you’ve all heard the phrase “The sign of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and xpect different results each time,” but to call the drug warriors insane is an oversimplification, I think. So what really IS driving them? The war on drugs in America probably remains in place because forfeiture laws have made the war on drugs so damned profitable for police forces. But why Plans Colombia and Afghanistan? They cost money, they destroy the lives of peasants, AND they endanger national security–if we ever solve thid Islamic-terrorism mess we’ll only enjoy about a week of peace before we have to deal with Colombian terrorists who hate us because we turned their nice fertile country into a toxic wasteland. (Though we’ll be told they hate us for our freedom, of course.)

  5. I’m just trying to figure out if there’s any sort of historical precedent for this lunacy.

    I think that what you’re seeing is the traditional American views of puritanical morality being crossbred with the modern American tendency to Super Size everything we do. :-/

  6. Forfeiture laws may grease the wheels some, but the real problem is that the populace fears things would be even worse if we “gave up” on the war on drugs. It’s convenient to scapegoat politicians, but it’s our fellow citizens who want these policies. Also, while drug war supporters may be wrong, they’re not idiots. They don’t think that the drug war has no benefit unless the drug trade is entirely wiped out. They have to be convinced that the cons of the drug war outweigh the pros. Plus, while it may be the case that no other nation spends as much on the drug war, it’s not exactly like the rest of the world is Amsterdam, either. This is a very uphill fight, and it starts with accurately recognizing the enemy. Politicians may be part of that, but they’re not the whole story. Fear of change from citizens all over the world is the biggest obstacle.

  7. http://www.mises.org/story/1822

    All of us should use whatever little influence we have, jumping up and down about Afghanistan.
    It puts a very sharp point on the futility of Bush’s various wars.

  8. Considering that the poppy elimination program is not going to end anytime soon, the best we can hope for is that it remains official policy, but not taken very seriously on the ground so to speak.

  9. You’re right, Fyodor. An illiterate, rural Moroccan is as likely to turn in someone for smoking hash in public as is a Palm Springs senior citizen. And for the same reason.

  10. It’s a beautiful meeting of America’s two biggest blind spots:

    1) Prohibition – which, for all its efforts can’t ever eradicate demand, and

    2) Agricultural Subsidies – which, for all its efforts never eradicates supply and often encourages cheating.

  11. Jennifer-

    Well, one thing to keep in mind is that the drug trade also provides after-hours employment for a few people with day jobs in the public sector.

  12. …not to mention “supplemental income” for cops, prosecutors, judges, customs inspectors, IRS auditors (somebody’s gotta hide the laundered money), and numerous other public employees.

  13. thoreau,

    You can say that about any black market, actual or potential. That doesn’t mean everything gets made illegal for the benefit of those who do or would profit from prohibition. But recreational drugs make people afraid. That’s essentially why they’re illegal. That some people benefit from the black market presents an obstacle to legalization, sure, but it wouldn’t be much of one if people thought about legal pot and opium the same way they thought of legal macaroni and cheese.

  14. It’s convenient to scapegoat politicians, but it’s our fellow citizens who want these policies.

    Fyordor, I don’t feel this accurately measures the situation. Gov’t propaganda has put the fear in the electorate. Decades of propaganda has conditioned the older populace (as DARE has done to a segment of the young) into believing the worse about drugs. The media then helps to tow the line with their exposure of only those savagely addicted to drugs, never once do you see someone who is just like you or me, except for grabbing that beer, they grab a couple of lines in the evening. I also got an NRA flyer once that warned about local democrats wanting to put the kebosh onto your firearms leaving you and your family vulnerable to predator junkies looking for their next fix!

    This country lacks the honest to goodness truth about drugs.

  15. However, fyodor, I believe that the folks that perpetuate these lies are doing it because of the money. Prohibition not only creates income for the reasons thoreau mentions, but also because it helps keep our military-industrial complex going – ie guns, body armour, tactical flashlights, sights, flash and sound suppresors, and training are all huge money-makers.

    Maybe I sound like a conspiracy-theory wingnut, but I think that if you follow the money trail, you can get to the root of a lot of the corruption and lies of our government. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to follow the money to it’s end, or beginning, however you want to look at it.

  16. Sam beat me to the punch; I was going to say that fear doesn’t explain the motivation of those who deliberately suppress studies about the medical benefits of marijuana, or at least studies showing that not everybody who smokes pot turns into a homeless failure junkie.

  17. Why do we still have a war on drugs?

    I think many in government see it as a good excuse to manage our lives. Think about all the banking rules aimed at preventing money-laundering for instance, or getting us used to locker and car sniff searches.

    If you have nothing to hide, there?s no problem, right?

  18. Ah, I must be right, everyone is against me! 🙂

    sam/Lowdog/Jennifer, would you say the same thing about corporate advertising? That it’s the corporations’ fault that people make bad decisions because the corporations advertise them into doing it? But aside from the ethical question of where to asign responsibility, the important point is that propagandizing the war on drugs works, and it does so for a reason. Propagandizing a war on macaroni and cheese obviously wouldn’t have the same effectiveness. Fail to address the fear that ordinary citizens have about recreational drugs and their ignorance about the bad effects of prohibition, and you’ll get nowhere. Of course, complaining about evil politicians gets you nowhere too, because we’ll always have them. Whether we can change people’s perspective on prohibition I don’t claim to know, but at least it’s theoretically possible. Eliminating the incentives created by the black market is not.

  19. I don’t think advertising is a fair comparison, Fyodor; responding to advertising is a matter of choice, whereas obeying the drug laws isn’t. If drugs were legal but the government took out ads encouraging people to avoid them, fine.

    Also, there’s (usually) a difference between advertising and outright lying. Saying “One puff of a joint will turn you into a hopeless junkie” is far worse than implying “Drinking our beer will make Swedish bikini models materialize in your vicinity and beg to go down on you;” the ad compannies don’t expect anybody to literally believe the beer ads.

    Full disclosure: I work for an ad agency. And maybe I stretched the truth a bit when I wrote about how peachy-keen a certain Internet provider is, but if a consumer decides I’m completely off the mark he can cancel his service without being thrown in jail for thirty years. And I NEVER wrote anything like “If you use another service provider your brain will rot and you’ll lose your job and end up giving blow jobs in a back alley for email access.”

  20. Short version of my last post: advertising may not always be honest, but ad agencies don’t back up their claims with force. The government does.

  21. fyodor-

    Fair enough. Corruption certainly isn’t the only reason. But let’s keep in mind that the people who run the schools and who pay for those anti-drug ads (i.e. the government) also benefit from prohibition: Some of them via bribery, others via asset forfeiture, and others from the guaranteed funding and ever-expanding power that they get from the drug war.

    So, I guess we could run around in circles trying to figure out whether government corruption is the tail wagging the dog of public opinion, or whether public opinion is the main driver. The bottom line is that we shouldn’t underestimate the role of corruption.

  22. I don’t think advertising is a fair comparison, Fyodor; responding to advertising is a matter of choice, whereas obeying the drug laws isn’t.

    I didn’t make myself clear, then. sam’s point seems to be that government propaganda is to blame for public support for the drug war (neither he nor I was addressing drug law compliance). But just as people have a choice as to how to respond to advertising, people also have a choice as to how to respond to government propaganda. Therefore, it’s wrong to blame the government propaganda for the drug war’s support, and for two reasons. One is that it mis-assigns responsibility, which is wrong from an ethical POV. But more importantly to my mind is that it conflates influence with control and therefore ignores the very active participation of those being targetted. Just as corporations are not likely to try to advertise to people that they buy dogshit for snacks, governments are not likely to try to pass laws against (once again) macaroni and cheese. With recreational drugs, they have fertile ground.

    Heh, just read the rest of your post. No wonder you’re sensitive about my comparison if you work for an ad agency! 🙂 Marijuana likely has some harmful effects on young, heavy users; meanwhile, advertisers do expect people to believe them at some level. No offense to your noncoercive profession, but the distinction you make is abstract at best.

  23. What thoreau said.

    I would also agree with Jennifer. The gov’t can back up it’s bullshit with jail or death.

    But I do understand your point, fyodor, being one who’s all about personal responsibility – even though I don’t have much discipline myself, at least I don’t blame others and whine when I do mess up.

  24. Short version of my last post: advertising may not always be honest, but ad agencies don’t back up their claims with force. The government does.

    That’s an important distintion, of course. But it’s just not the issue at hand when someone takes issue with me saying that drugs are illegal because people are scared of them, not so much because politicians are there to take advantage of that fear.

  25. “Gov’t propaganda has put the fear in the electorate. Decades of propaganda has conditioned the older populace (as DARE has done to a segment of the young) into believing the worse about drugs. The media then helps to tow the line with their exposure of only those savagely addicted to drugs, never once do you see someone who is just like you or me, except for grabbing that beer, they grab a couple of lines in the evening.”

    I think s.a.m. hit the nail on the head with this. The fact is, is that there’s not enough people who have stepped up, to challenge the war on drugs in MAINSTREAM media and offer the powerful arguments of our side. Watch these great shows, challenging the status quo of the war on drugs, war on pot, etc. They speak to receptive audiences, audiences that I don’t think were originally inclined to consider dumping prohibition. There needs to be 100x more of this. Watch the Montel Williams show on medicinal marijuana below if nothing else.

    In my own little fantasy world we’d have “The Debate Channel”. There would be the best of the best debating everything under the sun.

    Montel Williams Show On Medical Marijuana
    http://pot.tv/archive/shows/pottvshowse-3027.html
    Click on “View this show now”

    Governor Gary Johnson Speaks in Vancouver
    http://pot.tv/archive/shows/pottvshowse-1529.html
    Click on “View this show now”

    Newshawks: Jesse Ventura’s America
    http://pot.tv/archive/shows/pottvshowse-2365.html
    Click on “View this show now”

    ABC’s A War on Drugs, A War on Ourselves with John Stossel
    http://pot.tv/archive/shows/pottvshowse-1448.html
    Click on “View this show now”

  26. thoreau,

    I just think that focusing on corruption misses the boat on several accounts. It certainly doesn’t sway anyone’s mind to tell them they’re being duped by propaganda. Beyond that, I’ve already addressed why I think it makes more sense to focus on people’s perception of the issue, so I shan’t repeat myself.

  27. Rob D.,

    I’ve seen articles in mainstream newspapers challenging the war on drugs. Maybe not with the veracity and consistency that you and I would like, but it’s happened. I imagine that people read them and think, “Hmmm, maybe this article has a point…” But then if a candidate gets accused of being soft on drugs, the Fear Factor kicks in….

  28. Fyodor-
    But how can people know to distrust government propaganda if they have nothing to compare it to?

    I found a Website a few weeks back that was a collection of German propaganda from the Nazi and GDR days, and I read this one Nazi piece explaining why America was going to lose the war any day now, due to various selfish, self-absorbed reasons that gaius marius would wholeheartedly support. And I’ll admit it was a damn well written piece of propaganda–even *I* was half-convinced we were going to lose the war, despite knowing we’d already won it sixty years previously!

    So if you were a German reading this in 1944, even if you WANTED to doubt what the government was saying, where could you go to learn otherwise? Likewise, were can you (legally) learn the truth about drugs? I learned how harmless pot can be by smoking it and going on to have a successful life–to learn the truth about the law, I had to break it.

  29. shit, i’ve met drug users who support prohibition. the theme is almost always the same; while they can “handle it” other people (read: the poor, dark, swarthy types) will “go crazy.”

  30. fyodor-

    I guess I focus on corruption for two reasons:
    1) On a personal level, I’ve said before that I know somebody who’s worked in the drug trade and gotten favors from corrupt public employees.

    2) On a political level, I keep telling myself that if the public realized just how corrupt the drug war is, and realized just how heavily the whole thing is rigged in favor of the criminal gangs, they’d stop supporting it. My fear is that I’m being naive: The public would demand the arrest of every cop taking bribes (well, every cop caught taking bribes) but support the continuation of the drug war.

    So I guess it goes back to public opinion, I just think that exposing corruption might change minds. My fear is that I’m wrong.

  31. It’s so simple. The power mongers DON’T want the drug trade to stop. It’s another way to extend their fascist control. If the “War on Drugs”, “War on Terrorism”, “War on Poverty”, etc., etc. were ever won a bunch of bueracrats would be out of work and the gov. wouldn’t have any excuse to extort more money from the populous. It’s “1984”. It’s the burning of the Riechstag. Merely a way for those in power to again more.

  32. Fyodor, I can appreciate your view, but when my own very old grandmother who never leaves the house and rarely reads due to near blindness, yet equates drug use with aiding terrorism, something she learned when the family was together watching the Superbowl following 9/11 and we hold heartedly debated. She is the sweetest grandmother in the world and she has no problem believing what the gov’t is saying. And us youngins’ have little credibility because of the way we talk using the F word and all, the way we like to get with our girlfriends before marriage, and all the other difficulties a good generation gaps brings us. And don’t mess with her, she votes! She was a precinct captain for 6 elections!

    Again, I do understand your point of view, but grandma spouts out the propaganda “factoids” like it was gospel and theres no changing her tune until the government changes theirs!

  33. JohnnyClarke,
    I’ve wondered why we can’t stop the Afghanistan opium trade…. What gives? If we can’t stop the opium trade in a country we control,

    cf prison.

    what makes these idiots think they’re going to stop drug trafficking anywhere else?

    You answered your own question. They are idiots.

  34. Like abortion, misconceptions about drug use persist because many users are not public with their habits. Non-users have no personal idea of the drug experience, and tend to repeat the common notions, like saying, “I want what he’s smoking,” or, “he is high on crack,” to indicate a poor argument or bad idea. Only the dramatic failures of users are well publicized, with a tendency to equate mild drugs with the harsh ones.

    If the anti-drug people became aware of how many well-functioning habitu?s surround them at all times, they would have less foundation for the fear of the substances. People can’t tell grandma they like to get high and tend their garden when grandma is likely to call the state in to help “save” them from a lifelong well-managed pasttime.

  35. Jennifer,

    But how can people know to distrust government propaganda if they have nothing to compare it to?

    When the government retains a monopoly on information (by punishing those who give a different version), then you’re right that it’s very different.

    My comments are limited to the here & now. There are plenty of sources of information. If someone chooses to believe government propaganda, that is their choice.

    thoreau,

    if the public realized just how corrupt the drug war is, and realized just how heavily the whole thing is rigged in favor of the criminal gangs, they’d stop supporting it

    My expectation is that unless they came to understand the basis of that corruption in a black market, they would just say, well then let’s clean up the corruption. And for them to understand that this is a black market in a meaningful way, they have to understand that drug crime is a victimless crime. To whit, one argument one hears against legalization is the rhetorical question: So, why don’t we just legalize murder because laws against it haven’t eliminated murder, and have created a black market in murder? That’s why we have to show people that it’s different from murder, and different from directly hurting someone.

    sam,

    You put me in a difficult debating position as I would hesitate to appear to speak ill of your sweet granny!! 🙂 Still, are you saying that she cannot think independently of the government? How that sounds just like a lefty saying advertising is to blame for making people act against their own best interest! I do admit three important differences: one, the government supports its propaganda with coercive funding, two, in cases such as this, the policy being supported is coercive, and three, it may be more difficult to punish the government than private business for outright lies (though I lack the knowledge of the subject to know that for sure). But with all those caveats, I return to the point that no one has refuted that the government’s power is not absolute and, especially in our system, is limited to areas where the populace is especially prone to believing its bullshit.

    Plus, as I said before, there’s nothing we can do about government propaganda, at least not when we explain it in terms of incentives to corruption, because those incentives are absolute.

  36. As is usual on these threads, most–especially the academic types–cannot see the forest for the trees.
    Afghanistan is the golden argument against any and all wars served up on a silver platter.
    I’ll link here again:
    http://www.mises.org/story/1822

    My comments notwithstanding, I agree with others comments above that there is no silver bullet for plugging the War on Drugs.
    The War on Drugs will be done away with by sweeping. It will take many swipes from many angles.

  37. I know the conversation’s over already. But drug prohibition will never end. Using drugs responsibly is considered immoral in itself and everyone coming forward would just be considered an epidemic. Like poverty it’s a battle of “altruism” vs. marginal utility. How many people are worth hurting/coercing to save avery last addict/derilect. As long as One child left behind is too many, everyone must suffer, and unattainable goals can easily consume infinite resources. Especially when you consider the motivation structure, it’s feelgood policy to “do something” no-matter what “something” may be. nor effective, nor evil. Drug war will never end unless governments simply go bankrupt trying to fight them, and as long as we live, work and produce they can never be suffocated.

  38. Captain Awesome,

    Good analysis. The one hope is that if you can see that and I can see that, maybe others can too. Naturally, I’m not holding my breath. But at least you put the blame where it belongs, on widespread POV’s. If we can’t even get to step one, not much chance of getting to step eight-thousand-nine-hundred-forty-two.

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