Afghanistan

Opium-Induced Déjà Vu in Afghanistan

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Yesterday the U.N. announced that opium production in Afghanistan hit a record level this year. You may feel as if you've read this news before: Opium production in Afghanistan also hit a record level last year. This year 193,000 hectares of poppies were cultivated, up 17 percent from last year's 165,000. Thanks to favorable weather that led to high yields, opium production rose even more, from about 6,700 tons in 2006 to about 9,000 tons this year, an increase of 34 percent. The U.N. says Afghanistan's opium now represents 93 percent of the world total, compared to 92 percent last year. The New York Times notes that U.S. opium eradication efforts have accomplished little except to move the poppies around:

Despite a $600 million American counternarcotics effort and an increase in the number of poppy-free provinces to 13 from 6, the report found that the amount of land in Afghanistan used for opium production is now larger than amount of land used for coca cultivation in all of Latin America….

[Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime,] described a "divided" Afghanistan, with opium production dropping in the relatively stable north, and growing in the south, the center of an insurgency. There, Taliban militants control large areas and have encouraged farmers to grow opium. Production in the south has also become more sophisticated, with the number of labs processing opium into heroin growing to 50 from 30 in Helmand Province, local officials said.

The U.N. says this year's opium output "exceeds global demand by a large margin," indicating a stockpile of up to 3,300 tons. Although U.S. officials are increasingly worried that opium profits are helping to fund terrorism, they seem intent on raising the value of that stockpile:

The report is likely to spark renewed debate over an American-backed proposal for the aerial spraying of opium crops with herbicide. Afghan and British officials have opposed aerial spraying, saying it would increase support for the Taliban among farmers who fear the herbicide would poison them and their families. A proposal to carry out pilot programs where herbicide would be sprayed by ground eradication teams is now being considered.

Costa, for his part, wants NATO troops to get more involved in anti-opium efforts. "I am a lot more optimistic," he says. "The perception I have is that our call is not falling any longer on deaf ears."

But if cracking down on opium production in some Afghan provinces simply shifts it to others, wouldn't cracking down on opium production throughout Afghanistan simply shift it to other countries? It's not like that sort of thing has never happened before. A decade ago, by the way, Costa's predecessor, Pino Arlacchi, explained that "global coca leaf and opium poppy acreage totals an area less than half the size of Puerto Rico," so "there is no reason it cannot be eliminated."

Over the long term, if history is any guide, these grandiose anti-drug efforts will have no lasting impact on heroin consumption. Over the short term, as I noted in a column on the subject last year, they are strengthening the Taliban and their terrorist allies.

NEXT: Iraq: Counting the Dead

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  1. Costa, for his part, wants NATO troops to get more involved in anti-opium efforts.

    Oh, that’s just great. They’re already starved for troops, and he wants them to run around busting Afghan farmers.

    I know, let’s dedicate the 82nd division to poppy eradication, and turn the identification of convoys as Taliban vs. civilian entirely to the Air Force.

  2. Gee, it’s too bad that governments in developed countries are so paranoid about pharmacists dispensing opium-based medicine to people who really do need it. Just imagine if there was an actual demand for all of this first-rate opium by pharmaceutical companies (maybe there already is??); then it could be sold as a cash crop through legitimate channels, the farmers would make lots of money, the Taliban would get nothing, Afghanistan’s economy would get a huge boost, and people who actually need opiate-based pain killers would be well supplied with inexpensive quality medicine. Sounds like a win-win-win-win situation.

    Oh never mind… we all know that opium is really a deadly poison that has been placed in the hands of terrorists by Satan. Satan made me write that, too.

  3. I’ve got a great idea for bankrupting the Taliban, as well as Afghan warlords of various other stripes…

  4. You know, ending the War on Drugs would be great, but I’m willing to lower my sights.

    Can the people we sent to Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban not be used and McGruff the fucking Crime Dog? Is that really too much to ask? Throw me bone here.

  5. grr, “…used as McGruff the Crime Dog…”

  6. Throw me bone here.

    Wait, this is a Sen. Craig thread?

    OK, to be serious, yeah, I realize that there may be positive steps short of ending the WoD, but I hammer on legalization in the context of Afghanistan more than any other context because I see it as our best shot at legalization. If bankrupting the Taliban isn’t a good enough rallying cry for legalization, what is?

  7. We need to destroy these crops. If we don’t, people might get their hands on some of it and might even use it. That would be terrible, it would be like…like…freedom.

  8. We’ve got to end the WoD.

  9. Add up all the money wasted by the US on the WoD. Throw in the money wasted on Homeland Security, getting in the middle of a civil war in Iraq, getting the Navy ready to launch an attack on Iran.
    Add it all up.
    Now explain to the 40-something crowd that that money could just as easily go into securing their Social Security.
    Is this a way to get folks to call for an end to the War on Drugs?

    Calypso Louie Farrakhan is calling for an end to WoD in his Final Call newspaper. He doesn’t mention it directly, but hints at the fact the WoD is behind the moral decay and decay in general in inner cities. He’s so right.

    How many two-by-fours do the “irrational voters” need to get whacked with to snap them out of their irrationality?

  10. Yeah, it’s going to really make the Afghan farmers like us when we spray herbicide on their villages.

    They’ll really think we’re better than the Taliban after that.

    [/sarcasm]

  11. Thanks to favorable weather that led to high yields, opium production rose even more, from about 6,700 tons in 2006 to about 9,000 tons this year, an increase of 34 percent.

    So some agriculture will benefit from Global Warming/Climate Change.

  12. “”Yesterday the U.N. announced that opium production in Afghanistan hit a record level this year””

    Man, I love it when capitalism wins! Seriously, I do.

  13. And they say the media doesn’t report the good news.

  14. “And they say the media doesn’t report the good news.”

    wins the thread.

  15. Yep. I know that the USA is the only country that’s nutso on the WOD. Oh, wait a sec, apparently, no.

    Check the press in a few other countries. You’ll find that in spite of a lot of talk about “decriminalization”, “drugs are bad, mmmkay”.

    Yeah, great, needle rooms in Sydney, Vancouver or Zurich are fine. Just let’s not let any heroin get in so that there’s some kind of leagal supply for them.

  16. Isaac, sad but true. So, who’s up for a freedom ship?

  17. Ohh, ohh, I got it the perfect solution! The USA should quickly add a 1000% tariff to foreign opium/heroin to protect our domestic opium farmers. How come nobody cares about them?

  18. I know that some libertarians have backed off of the “legalize drugs” message, because that is one of the positions which has been cited in the past when others have marginalized us as kooks. That is exactly the wrong thing to do, IMHO. The idea is gaining traction, and will sooner or later hit a tipping point. We need to be there when it happens, to claim credit for pushing the idea from Day One, thereby gaining credibility when it succeeds. God forbid people like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney claim the idea as their own. Flip-floppers and opportunists, every one of them.

  19. The L.A. Times and other media outlets refer to “record production” of the “deadly drug”. Opium based pain relievers are all similar, too bad they don’t mention that, and they wonder why their subscription rates relative to the population are taking a nose dive.

  20. I loved the quote so much, I just have to repeat it:

    “global coca leaf and opium poppy acreage totals an area less than half the size of Puerto Rico,” so “there is no reason it cannot be eliminated.”

    This is, of course, exactly wrong. It is precisely because the acreage is so small that it cannot be eliminated.

    A needle-in-a-haystack problem is easy to solve if the “haystack” is twenty-seven cubic inches of hay and one sewing needle. It is similarly easy when the stack of hay is the size of the Empire State Building, but the needle is the Space Needle. But finding and removing a sewing needle from the stack the size of the Empire State Building?

    The world is big, and the areas thereof suitable for poppy cultivation are huge. The areas suitable for coca are smaller, but still huge. You can’t patrol that much area effectively enough to stop a tiny amount of that land being successfully cultivated for those crops.

  21. The report is likely to spark renewed debate over an American-backed proposal for the aerial spraying of opium crops with herbicide.

    Still with the herbicide? I would have expected talk to reach the “salt the earth” phase by now.

  22. Yeah, great, needle rooms in Sydney, Vancouver or Zurich are fine. Just let’s not let any heroin get in so that there’s some kind of leagal supply for them.

    And by the way, not to mention the “coffee houses” in Amsterdam. Never mind that cannabis possession and trafficking are still illegal in the Netherlands*. So how exactly do those Coffee Houses get their “legal” supply anyway?

    *And that Dutch cops are every bit as zealous in their work as their American (and by the way Canadian) counterparts. The only difference is that the nominal sentences for drug offenses are not as long in Euroland as here. But then they aren’t for a most other offenses either.

  23. I know that some libertarians have backed off of the “legalize drugs” message, because that is one of the positions which has been cited in the past when others have marginalized us as kooks. That is exactly the wrong thing to do, IMHO. The idea is gaining traction, and will sooner or later hit a tipping point.

    I hope your assesment is correct and the idea really is gaining traction. Are there any survey results showing this?

    We need to be there when it happens, to claim credit for pushing the idea from Day One, thereby gaining credibility when it succeeds. God forbid people like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney claim the idea as their own. Flip-floppers and opportunists, every one of them.

    Did I miss something? Did either of these guys (or any major party presidential candidate besides Ron Paul) indicate that they would consider any form of legalization?

    Maybe I haven’t been paying attention enough. But I was under the impression that this issue was pretty much below the radar and most people think, simply, that drugs should be banished and are not even considering any other position at the moment.

  24. I read somewhere that although the coalition are winning the fight against the Taliban (or so they say) this is opening the way for Columbia-style drug lords to move in and take their place. It would be ironic then if ousting the Taliban opened the way for a less obnoxious but perhaps more dangerous threat.

  25. Where’s the weed? The sad thing about all the opium is that there’s none of that killer Afghani hash around anymore.

  26. Funny thing, and they believe that if they destroy the sole production means of the afghan population, those people won’t get angry? In a country that already is angry?

    Wow, that really is a peaceful occupation that might turn into a blood-bath…

  27. What we really need to do is find all the opium, cocaine and marijuana on earth through satelites, load up 10s of thousands of bombs with herbicide, roll out the B-52s and carpet bomb every square inch of the earth where the drugs are growing. If we don’t do this people might use the poisonois drugs and get high, which is sinful, they should be drinking instead.

  28. Look, drugs are bad, okay? DRUGS ARE BAD! THEY’RE BAD! AND DOING DRUGS IS BAD! BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD! Let’s go get a beer.

  29. Look, drugs are bad, okay? DRUGS ARE BAD! THEY’RE BAD! AND DOING DRUGS IS BAD! BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD! Let’s go get a beer.

    I’ll drink to that! I need a cigarette and some coffee!

  30. Let’s buy up all that opium and then export it to China to offset our trade deficit with them.

    Hey, it worked for the British!

  31. I see three delicious ironies here.

    One is that when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they came close to wiping out opium production. If they had stayed in place another year or two, the plant might have actually gone extinct. It’s amazing how the most puritanical of rulers can change their minds when they stand to make astronomical amounts of money.

    The second is that the US government is going to be defeated in the War on Drugs by the same strategy that won it the Cold War: namely, get the enemy into a spending contest they can’t win. America’s drug consumers can and will spend trillions against Washington’s billions.

    This will lead to the third and greatest irony: American freedom will be restored at the hands of the Taliban! Mohammed will be rolling over in his grave.

  32. Instabilty and war are the primary factors responsible for increased opium production in Afghanistan. Before the Soviet invasion, and during the brief rule of the Taliban, opium production was either very limited, or deliberated curtailed. Soon after the war is over, production is likely to plummet.

    http://watching-history.blogsp…..istan.html

  33. In his last single

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