Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Greatest Mistake in Afghanistan?

Our greatest mistake in Iraq was likely that we disbanded the military and the Baath party, taking away the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people and their families with nothing to replace these livelihoods with. In a similar way, we are achieving the same negative result in Afghanistan by destroying poppy fields. There is a better way to accomplish our purposes and at the same time reduce dramatically the number of Afghanis who are joining the Taliban.

I recently wrote about "The Greatest Mistake" in Iraq, which I believe to be the disbanding of the Iraqi military and the Baath party, minute portions of which functioned to ensure Saddam's power. Others were members of these organizations because they were forced to, and yet others were because it was a means of providing for their families. The disbanding of the military and the major (only?) political party had ramifications that people who studied the issues beforehand saw coming. With no other paycheck, many members of the underground Saddam resistance joined the insurgency. Those who didn't study ignored them. And they ignored the impassioned pleas of the Iraqi people.

A similar problem is becoming more evident in Afghanistan. Although poppy fields are a significant source of the illegal opium trade around the world, poppy production must also be realistically seen as the only source of income for a great number of Afghanis.

Columnist Anne Applebaum cites the history of what has happened when bans against opium production have been tried--failure. Despite all the destruction of the poppy crop in the last year, poppy production in Afghanistan is actually up by 60%, according to the Washington Post.

Applebaum predicts that planned chemical airdrops to destroy poppy fields will cause more resentment and more new adherents for a currently burgeoning Taliban.

Is there a way to allow the Afghani people to maintain their livelihoods and put their product to productive use? There seems to be. Turkey has made use of a program that has decimated the illegal drug trade and kept it low. Since the early 1970's here's how it's been working:

Turkey -- this was the era of "Midnight Express"-- was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.

As a result, in 1974 the Turks, with American and U.N. support, tried a different tactic. They began licensing poppy cultivation for the purpose of producing morphine, codeine and other legal opiates. Legal factories were built to replace the illegal ones. Farmers registered to grow poppies, and they paid taxes.

Many of the problems in this world are economically based. People in many areas of the globe are just eking out an existence for themselves and their families. If they had an alternative, they wouldn't plant roadside bombs. If they had an alternative, they wouldn't produce opium for the illegal market. It would be nice to give the Iraqi and the Afghani people another alternative.

But the Bush administration doesn't seem have this approach on its radar screen. I think maybe it's time they do. Unless they want the Afghanis to hate us as bad as the Iraqis do.


Anonymous said...

I have read this elsewhere and I do agree with buying the poppies/opium in the short term. It would give us time to come up with a more long lasting solution. Before this came up I never gave any thought to what other countries were doing about their poppy problem. It's been very interesting.

Rich Warnick said...

Your'e going to have to change the name of this blog to "Serving the People of Iraq, Iran & Afghanistan."

Frank Staheli said...

How about "Serving the People of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the Rest of the World"


It's what the colonial powers have tried to do for decades, and it hasn't much worked.

Maybe I should just go back to my original.

Anonymous said...

"I recently wrote about "The Greatest Mistake" in Iraq, which I believe to be the disbanding of the Iraqi military and the Baath party," As they always say, hind sight is 20/20. I honestly, just my opinion, think it's too early to still judge all of this stuff. We'll need to wait decades before things can be seen for what they really were today. I like your idea for Afghanistan, though. By the opium they make for making morphine. That's not too shabby!

Anonymous said...

That should read buy, not by. Oh, how I despise my spelling habits some times!