Cut in Half, Doubled, Whatever

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Here's some more evidence that former drug czar Barry McCaffrey had no idea what he was talking about when he claimed, fresh from a trip to Afghanistan, that "opium production has been dramatically slashed by 48% just in the past year": The Guardian reports that Helmand, the province in southern Afghanistan patrolled by British troops, is expected to "produce at least a third of the world's heroin this year" all on its own:

Drug experts [i.e., not Barry McCaffrey]…are forecasting a record harvest that will be an embarrassment for the western-funded war on narcotics….

British officials are bracing themselves for the result of an annual UN poppy survey due later this summer. Early indications show an increase on Helmand's 1999 record of 45,000 hectares (112,500 acres) and a near-doubling of last year's crop.

"It's going to be massive," said one British drugs official. "My guess is it's going to be the biggest ever."

Helmand's bumper harvest highlights the failure of western counter-narcotics efforts that have cost at least $2bn (£1.1bn) since 2001.

As I suspected, McCaffrey apparently was talking about a reduction in opium poppy acreage, not in opium production, and he was referring to the change between 2004 and 2005, not between last year and this year. Last November the Office of National Drug Control Policy said "approximately 107,400 hectares of poppy were cultivated during the crop season in 2005—a decline of 48 percent [from] the 2004 level." But it added that, because of "favorable growing conditions," yields per acre had increased and total opium production had fallen by only 10 percent. This year both cultivation and production are up.

Anticipating the inevitable calls to "get serious" and crack down on poppy cultivation through aerial spraying (if not through Taliban-style summary execution of growers), one official warns that "it could drive farmers into the hands of the insurgents." No kidding.

[Thanks to Kirk Gray for the Guardian link.]

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  1. Would poor Afgan farmers risk death and exclusion from heaven if heroin was legal and prices dropped out of the black market zone? I suspect not. And just think of all the War on Drugs $$ that could be spent somewhere else.

  2. Yes, Pi Guy, but then the terrorists will have won.

  3. And I would ask rhetorically why the UN Poppy Survey hates America, but I’m afraid John Bolton would turn up to tell us why.

  4. If the Talibani promise to vote Republican, we should subcontract drug enforcement to them. They can get the job done.

  5. P Brooks-

    The Taliban, according to the Economist, only cracked down on opium growers after building up a huge stockpile. This sent the price through the roof, so they made a bundle on their stockpile. It also had the effect of impoverishing a lot of people, which is always good if you want to make sure that nobody else has the resources to challenge you.

  6. “The Taliban, according to the Economist, only cracked down on opium growers after building up a huge stockpile. This sent the price through the roof, so they made a bundle on their stockpile.”

    So based on Pierre Salinger’s anecdote about Cuban cigars, this would make the Taliban likely Democrats, correct? I knew there was another reason we couldn’t trust them!

  7. Cynical practicality does not disqualify them from the task at hand; rather it recommends them. Eventually you run out of abandoned Russian materi?l, and need a source of income to fall back on. I don’t think your point contradicts mine (nor do you, I suspect).

    As for the Salinger reference, that just reinforces my judgement that JFK was a better Republican than any registered Republican we see today.

  8. …one official warns that “it could drive farmers into the hands of the insurgents.

    Oooo, I’m so confused. I thought that users of drugs were undermining the War on Terror… there were all sorts of expensive television ads, newspaper articles, the works, right?

    Support an Afghan farmer – shoot up tonight.

  9. Poppies can’t cost that much in Afghanistan. Why don’t we just buy it? Surely that’s cheaper than trying to interdict it.

  10. I’ll second Clean Hands’ nomination. It is The War on Drugs that is funding terrorism, not users of such drugs.

    The CIA Factbook page on Afghanistan says that their agriculture products are opium, wheat, fruits, nuts; wool, mutton, sheepskins, lambskins .

    Why don’t we hear that using wheat, fruits, nuts, wool, mutton, sheepskins, or lambskins is funding terrorism? The reason is they are legal, and thus there is no black market for any terrorists to control. The problem is the illegality of a certain product, not that the product is being produced or used in the first place.

    Just as wheat, fruits, nuts, wool, mutton, sheepskins, and lambskins usage helps the Afghani people, so does heroin usage. If we banned wheat, fruits, nuts, wool, mutton, sheepskins, and lambskins, then everyone would rightly say we are helping drive these people into the Taliban camp. Opium is no different.

  11. Here’s some more evidence that former drug czar Barry McCaffrey had no idea what he was talking about…

    It isn’t like said evidence is hard to find. So again I ask; Why the fuck does the media tow the line on the drug war? Every time any drug warrior opens his mouth to spew these flagrant untruths, there should be a reporter nailing his ass to the barn door. But NOOOoooooo they just pass along the WOD propaganda.

  12. How does Barry keep getting a pass on his lies? Seriously, in regards to the WoD, I’ve never heard the man say one true thing. Ever. Not even remotely.

  13. Would poor Afgan farmers risk death and exclusion from heaven if heroin was legal and prices dropped out of the black market zone?

    The massive price inflation is at the import stage, not at the source of the raw material.

    From a decade-old UN report cited by Peter Reuter:
    (Prices in USD per kilogram of end product)
    ——
    Pakistani farmer (raw material): 900
    Wholesale Pakistan: 2,870
    Wholesale U.S.: 80,000
    Retails 40% purity US: 290,000
    Retail 100%: 725,000
    ——

  14. Solution to the Afghan opium-growing problem:

    Morphine is made from opium, right? So why not let the Afghans grow all the opium they want, as long as they sell them to (preferrably American) pharmaceutical companies at a slightly reduced price?

    That would take the criminal/terrorist angle out of the equation entirely, provide a stable, affordable supply for a legitimate use of the drugs, and employ thousands of Afghans.

    It’s harder to be outraged to the point of extremism when your belly’s full.

  15. “Why don’t we hear that using wheat, fruits, nuts, wool, mutton, sheepskins, or lambskins is funding terrorism?
    Comment by: happyjuggler0 at June 16, 2006 12:44 PM”

    Actually, there are quite a few nuts funding terrorism. I don’t know about fruits.

  16. “I don’t know about fruits.”

    How about the Pink Panthers? They carried out terrorist operations in Beirut in the early to mid-’80s.

  17. I’m sure it was an intentional “error”. That way he gets to make a statement that tells the admin’s tale, but if he’s called on it, he can say he was misunderstood or he mis-remembered. Any correction will be buried in the inside pages and totally ignored while the un-truth is repeated as often as possible. This is typical of the pundits and water carriers of this admin.

  18. So why not let the Afghans grow all the opium they want, as long as they sell them to (preferrably American) pharmaceutical companies at a slightly reduced price?

    That’s the pragmatic approach. But to expect for the US to adopt that readily, is a stretch.

  19. thoreau: there is a long history of using drug enforcement as a form of market manipulation. When the British finally ended the opium trade in Shanghai, they found themselves, for some reason, negotiating a deal with the opium traders that allowed them to sell off “existing stockpiles,” and then gave them months to build up said stockpiles. Big, big payday for the traders over the next couple of years.

    Actually, the boom in opium production in Afghanistan is the one bright success story of the War on Terror so far. The Taliban were driven from power, making is possible for the lowly Afghan farmer to ply his preferred trade once more, free from state terror. Nothing else has worked out quite right, but the Afghan farmer has reason to thank us. The British are right to be wary of jeopardizing that victory. Now we need to drive the terrorists out of power in our own country to build on that success.

  20. So why not let the Afghans grow all the opium they want, as long as they sell them to (preferrably American) pharmaceutical companies at a slightly reduced price?

    Because the Afghan farmers offered the guaranteed price would flood pharmaceutical companies with opium, the U.S. government would have to subsidize the effort and dispose of the excess, and farmers somewhere else will gear up to provide the opium for the illegal market.

    Simple demand–>supply.

  21. farmers somewhere else will gear up to provide the opium for the illegal market

    They could, but Afghanistan has a tradition of opium. It’s hard for another country to meet the huge demand from scratch, and it’s easier to nip it in the bud in a country/populace that’s not used to it for livelihood. After all, by your logic, there should be lot more LSD out there than there is. Just because there’s a demand, doesn’t mean there’s enough supply.

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