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.