Thursday, August 30, 2007

Choosing to fail

Note to NATO: opium eradication isn't working. People said -- six years or so ago, now -- that it wouldn't work, and ta-da, it hasn't worked. The workable solution to this problem -- buying all the opium and using it for medicinal stocks, or just destroying it -- has worked in a number of other places, but not Afghanistan. We're deliberately choosing stupidity over intelligence, choosing incompetence over effectiveness. And not just in the military fields, either. As always, Ian Welsh has some excellent commentary:
It's simple. It'd work. But of course since drugs are EVIL, such a common sense solution will never be adopted. It's interesting to ask why - are Americans, and indeed Europeans, really so inflexible, so indoctrinated with hatred of "drugs", that they can't do what it takes to win? In so many things we see this inflexibility - this decision to keep doing things the way they have always been done, rather than to adapt to the terrain, the people and the enemy.

Our enemies, ironically, despite coming from "traditional" societies, have no such hangups. Not convinced of their own military superiority, knowing that they can lose, having to make do without half the military budget of the entire world behind them, they are able to adapt to what we do, and by refusing to play our game by our rules they are beating us. In Iraq we lose. In Afghanistan we lose. In Lebanon a militia defeated what was supposed to be one of the most elite of all Western-style militaries.

We win the open-field battles, but we are losing the wars. And it is because we can no longer see clearly; and seeing clearly we can no longer adapt. The western military, heir of the greatest military tradition in the world, a Goliath standing astride the world, is being defeated not by David with a sling, but by a swarm of ants who refuse to sit still and be smashed by our mighty club.

And the Afghan opium problem is just another example of how we insist, in the face of failure, on doing the same thing that already failed, over and over again.


Jer said...

This is a "subsidy" solution, and it's a good one. Buy up the crop yourself and destroy it. The farmers get money (which helps the economy), the traffickers get cut off and the supply goes down.

And, while you're at it, find some other crop that grows just as well in the same land - there has to be something. Pay the farmers 2-3 times the opium rate for whatever that crop is. It doesn't matter if it's useful or not, though it would be best if it were some kind of foodstuff that could be given out to impoverished families in need. If the farmers make more money growing something else, they'll stop growing opium. So fix the market so they grow something else.

This isn't rocket science and it IS an obvious solution. So there are really only two reasons why this hasn't been implemented:

*) Someone in the coalition benefits from the opium trade coming out of Afghanistan. That's the conspiracy theory answer - that the CIA uses the opium trade to generate money for black ops projects. I don't want to believe it myself, but that means the answer is ...

*) We have people in power that are so blinded by "free market ideology" that the obvious solution of subsidies and market manipulation is MORE EVIL to them than the opium trade that funnels money to our enemies. They would rather have a destructive system in place that doesn't work than a constructive one that runs counter to their beliefs on how ecnomics, government and military occupations are "supposed" to work.

I'm not sure which answer is worse. Which is better - evil or stupid?

Mike said...

"This is a "subsidy" solution, and it's a good one. Buy up the crop yourself and destroy it. The farmers get money (which helps the economy), the traffickers get cut off and the supply goes down."

Until the Taliban or some other group, which can still make millions in opium in Europe or North America, offer the farmers a higher price. Then NATO will have to offer a higher price....and so on...

The problem being that the street price is so high because of prohibition. Decriminalizing or legalizing in the destination countries would greatly reduce the street price, drive out the criminal element and make it fairly unprofitable to grow.

Or one could do, sadly and ironically, what the only group to successfully eradicate the opium crop in Afghanistan did - rule with and iron fist and kill those who grow. They were, of course, the Taliban in the 1990s. That has been the only way that has worked.

Seems to me it might be best to revise our own drug policies, rather than fight a war somewhere else. It hasn't worked in Columbia, why do we think it will work in Afghanistan.

Perhaps just another excuse for a war that has gone badly wrong and off the rails, that really should be stopped.