U.S. Cops to Poppy Crop Flop, Plans to Stop


Last week Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, conceded the folly of American efforts to eradicate opium poppies:

Eradication is a waste of money. It might destroy some acreage, but it didn't reduce the amount of money the Taliban got by one dollar. It just helped the Taliban. So we're going to phase out eradication….

The farmers are not our enemy. They're just growing a crop to make a living. It's the drug system. So the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban.

Instead of seeking to wipe out poppy cultivation, an effort that has been spectacularly unsuccessful, the Obama administration plans to focus its anti-drug activities in Afghanistan on laboratories and traffickers. That's not likely to have a noticeable impact on heroin consumption either, but it should piss off fewer farmers and make them less likely to view the Taliban as their defenders against foreign invaders intent on destroying their livelihood.

The ineffectiveness of crop eradication (and of source control generally) is widely acknowledged among drug policy scholars, and critics for years have been arguing that pursuing this strategy in Afghanistan is counterproductive if the aim is to defeat the Taliban and promote something resembling peace and security. Still, the Obama administration should get credit for admitting the obvious, which the Bush administration was never willing to do.

Previous Reason coverage of Afghan opium here.

[via The Drug War Chronicle]

NEXT: Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama

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  1. OK, the administration–through an obscure official who can be easily thrown under the bus if anyone makes a stink about this–admitted (six months into this administration!) that eradication is counterproductive. Now they’re going to “phase it out” which could mean a lot of things. I don’t understand why they can’t just, you know, stop destroying poppies rather than phase out poppy destruction?

  2. “Whats with the preparing? You’re always preparing, just go!”

  3. Too bad it never occurs to anyone, in ANY administration, that what people do to themselves is nobody else’s goddamn business.

  4. Good decision, although I question the need to gradually phase out eradication.

    Why can’t they just say “Stop burning poppy fields. Right now. All of you, just stop it.”

  5. I heard this talk about moving resources away from eradication last week and thought, well, it’s a start. But they still can’t seem to get it through their skulls that they won’t be any more successful suppressing demand.

    Very tenuously related, I can’t believe that no one caught this story a couple of weeks ago.

    Wallabies damaging crops in Tasmania poppy fields after getting high

    I was thinking of commenting on it then but didn’t get a round to it. There didn’t seem to be a thread where it wouldn’t be wildly off topic.

  6. “the Obama administration plans to focus its anti-drug activities in Afghanistan on laboratories and traffickers.”

    Well, that’s convenient timing isn’t it. I suppose that it’s gonna take more troops to accomplish this.

  7. Yay. So we will no longer piss off the poor farmers who are merely surviving. We are going to do them a double favor and drive the price of their crop up by fucking with the middle man. At least they are vilifying a position that has been vilified in everything from textiles to commodities. Of course trying to stop the middle man has historically worked as well as stopping the growers. They are fewer, more motivated, and generally better armed. (see Mexico for impending debacle)

    They should get credit, a gold star, for going from the pot to the fire.

  8. OK, how did this mission creep from hunting down and capturing or killing OBL and other assorted ringleaders and delivering a message to deter anyone else from fucking with the USA like AQ had to this bullshit?

    Question’s mostly rhetorical but I wouldn’t mind hearing what other Hit’n’Runners think on this.

  9. I think mission creep is a bit like government expansion – you have to make a deliberate effort not to do it, especially if the overall strategic objectives are ill-defined or subject to frequent change. And given the degree to which drug policy influences foreign policy, it really isn’t that surprising that we got into the prohibition business in Afghanistan, especially since it could be spun as a natural extension of the anti-Taliban effort.

  10. Hitchens suggested this first, I guess, but isn’t there an easy answer to this? Stop buying opium from Turkey; start buying it from Afghanistan. We use lots of the stuff for morphine and other opiates. Turks might be unhappy, but they will still have their customers in Europe.

  11. It might piss off the Australians.

    According to my link above, “Tasmania is the world’s biggest producer of legally grown opium for the pharmaceutical market.”

    They produce something like 50% of the world’s supply.

    Now you know why the Aussies have troops in Afghanistan, right. 🙂

  12. Taz alone could probably wipe out the entire opium crop in one fell swoop.

  13. Tulpa, from the link, it looks like the wallabies are doing a pretty good job.

    Tassie Devils are carniverous so they turn there noses up at eating flowers. To much like eating a salad.

    Of course the devils might eat the high wallabies. Hmmmm.

  14. Maybe we can arm the wallabies with explosives and ship them to Afghanistan. They can serve a dual purpose. Eat poppies and when the bad guys are harvesting they could act as cruise wallabies!

    Fire zeee Wallabie!!

  15. Tulpa: You think Richard Holbrooke is an obscure official? The man responsible for the accords that ended the war in Bosnia? Former US Ambassador to the UN? Assistant Secretary of State for two administrations? A man who we’ve been hearing about for 20 years as a possible future Secretary of State? And now our envoy to two of the most sensitive regions in the world?

    And you’ve never heard of him?

  16. I would say that some nob whose career peaked at UN ambassador and assistant secretary of state is an obscure bureaucrat, yes.

  17. Why don’t we just buy the opium from the farmers?

    We can surely pay more than the middle men do.

  18. Why don’t we just buy the opium from the farmers?

    The problem with this thinking is that the “recreational” (for want of a better word) market still exists. By stepping in and buying up the Afghan farmers’ production governments would just become additional customers driving up the price. Production would expand to fil the new demand level.

    And what would you do with the stuff/ The legal market for opiates is pretty much satisfied.

    As I said above, if you start using the Afghan opium for pharma you’ll piss off the current producers who have substantial investments they’ll likely want to protect.

    Look, the way to go is a legal framework of regulated and taxed production and wholeslae and retail distribution. Any government spending should be confined to harm reduction among the end users.

    I know, it’s not a pure libertarian solution but then neither is the one we’ve got now for alcohol sales. But it’s the one most likely to work.

  19. I pretty much agree with Isaac, except for this:

    Any government spending should be confined to harm reduction among the end users.

    Nah. You took the drug, you take the consequences. If I decide I want to nanny you, I’ll give money to the United Way.

  20. “As I said above, if you start using the Afghan opium for pharma you’ll piss off the current producers who have substantial investments they’ll likely want to protect.”

    This gives me a chuckle when I think of it in context to the Obama Health Care Plan.

    I can see it now… free health care, now with more opium painkilling, goodness.

  21. “Too bad it never occurs to anyone, in ANY administration, that what people do to themselves is nobody else’s goddamn business.”

    They don’t spend all that time and money to become President just to mind their own business. They can do that for free. What’s the point of obtaining power if you’re not going to use it against people?

  22. R C.

    Isaac the doctrinaire libertarian absolutely agrees with you, Isaac the political realist is trying to find areas of agreement with those who do not share our doctrine.

    Now, to be sure, on second thought I should have said, wait, actually, I did, “Any government spending should be confined to harm reduction among the end users.”

    You’re quite right, I would prefer that there were no government spending beyond regulatory enforcement, which I fear is a devil with which we must strike a bargain.

    I hope our souls are not involved. 🙂

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