Saturday, August 29, 2009

Afghanistan and the Drug War

America’s war in Afghanistan is getting bloodier. In August, so far, 45 Americans have died in that war, more than in June or July. So far, as editorialized in today’s “New York Times,” over 8 years of war more than 5000 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we have spent more than $900 billions to achieve “victory” in those countries. Indeed, although our leaders tell us we will win the Afghan war, the chance of victory and our reasons for being there at all are murky. The English and the Russians before us tried and failed to impose their will on this country, but our government sees no reason why we shouldn’t succeed where they failed. How will our success be measured? In large part, we believe we’ll be successful if we engineer a “democratic” government there not enmeshed in the drug trade, which is Afghanistan’s main source of income.
Why is the drug trade so lucrative? Primarily, because opium-based drugs are illegal, and when drugs are illegal, a great deal of money can be made on the street. The U.N.’s drug czar, in the July 31, 2009 “Newsweek,” says about $52 billion of street drugs were sold retail worldwide last year. Of the $3 billion wholesale value, he estimates that the Taliban is raking off about 10% and is actively involved in the drug trade itself, as part of its terrorist activities. He also says that the Afghan government eradicated only about 3% of the poppy fields last year at the cost of 70 Afghan military deaths and at least two hundred million dollars. Three percent is hardly enough to deter growers.
This also is an example of the failures of the U.S. drug war, which continues unabated, wreaking havoc everywhere. From comes the news that so far in 2009 alone, we’ve spent over $33.6 billion on state and federal anti-drug efforts, while arresting more than 1.2 million people for drug offences. Many of those arrested will end up in prisons, which are breaking down under the load. This is all in the name of prohibiting drug sales. However, many addicts recruit others to finance their habit, so the number of addicts grows and sales increase. So, like the prohibition of alcohol, the prohibition of drugs is a failure, but prohibition is a moral crusade for the U.S. government because drugs, it is said, are bad. Perhaps a better way of thinking about drugs is that addiction is a medical problem that should be treated, rather than a crime that should be punished. If addicts could receive the drugs they crave from a clinic, rather from street sellers, they would have no cause to commit crimes to support their habit.
As long as drugs are prohibited in a moral war on drugs, the worse the drug problem will be. Our war in Afghanistan will not eradicate drug sales, only decriminalizing drug sales will do that. Does the U.S. have the moral courage to stop our crusade against drugs? Stay tuned.


Mr_Kaker said...

I believe that the real problem when it comes to drugs; albeit in Afghanistan or the streets of London or America is based on the users lack of opportunity cost. This is the reason to encourage initial usage. The lack of a significant reason to stop is the long term problem. I did once, whilst at university study the idea of legalizing drugs as a cure for the effects they are having on crime. The article of origin which the study was based on evades me but I do recall the author providing reasons to do what it seems you are favoring: if legalized it removes the criminal control and moves it to the hands of authorities.

My concern is firstly who can honestly be trusted with such control? Governments or organizations and if so how do they best manage such a responsibility? Profits vrs ethics come to mind here.

Secondly if one wants to truly eradicate such a problem in a sustainable manor then the logical solution is to provide national stability. Give the people, the farmers in Afghanistan an alternative and they will naturally move away. I say this as I have done some work with Afghan Aid who firstly, indirectly introduced to me a documentary on the drug problem in Afghanistan where the local's of Kabul were themselves seeking to find an alternative to the drugs. Very shocking documentary!!!

Giving people at the ground something to do that does not involve drugs is the only long term solution. Farming normal food products such as wheat with a view to supply and sell locally and maybe nationally (the second thing AfghanAid introduced me too). Right now they have no infrastructure to farm normal produce. And if these drug lords are giving them the tools needed to farm and feed their families then they farm ... albeit a globally illegal product.

(sorry for the long comment, something I am very opinionated about apparently ...)

Franklyn said...

The Afgans survived for many centuries without depending on the cultivation of poppies. Drugs and the crime it causes is the result of the great profit it brings. The way to stop it is to eliminate the profit and that is accomplished by making small quanties of the drugs available at low cost to registered addicts. Drug dealers will go out of business if there is no money in the game.

Pete M said...

Mr. Kaker and Franklyn,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Mr. Kaker, I wasn’t clear about the first part of your comment; the second part about helping farmers grow something other than poppies doesn’t seem very likely, given the high costs of eradicating the poppy crops. Poppy farming is now too profitable for the Taliban to give it up. I think the only way to turn farmers from poppies to ordinary crops is to decimalize drugs and give them to addicts in clinics, as Franklyn suggests. When there is no money in growing drug-producing plants, farmers will be more likely to grow food crops.