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Our War On Drugs Has Cost Us the War in Afghanistan
Raymond Richman, 6/5/2011

Our invasion of Afghanistan was to punish the Taliban for giving haven to Osama Bin Laden and his supporters. The Taliban, who outlawed the growing of poppies in 2000-2001 and whose brutality reduced the production of poppies to nearly zero, became hated in the countryside and our troops were welcomed as liberators. In a whirlwind operation, we quickly eliminated the Taliban as a fighting force. They were exiled and bankrupt and no longer had an army. We thought the Taliban would never come back. But we could not let well-enough alone. 

We decided to recreate Afghanistan in our image. Unfortunately, our image included one of our blemishes, our failed war on drugs. At the urging of the United Nation’s Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in a reversal of the Opium wars in which the European powers forced China to allow the importation of opium, we established a policy to get rid of the growing of poppies, Afghanistan’s leading agricultural crop.  

.In return for the Taliban’s reversal of its ban on the growing of poppies, the drug traffickers financed the Taliban and helped it create a new military force. The Taliban’s new policy was successful beyond their expectations and ours. The costs of the war in Afghanistan, which had been falling, escalated since 2006 and has cost us an estimated trillion US dollars. Our army was enlisted in the war on poppies and was used to destroy poppies growing in the fields. Billions were spent trying to get the poppy growers to plant wheat and other grains which yielded less than poppies. The Taliban were welcomed back as liberators by the growers of poppies and the hundreds of thousands who are dependent on the poppy industry for their livelihood.  We became their oppressors

We were no more successful in our Opium War in Afghanistan that we’ve been in our war on drugs at home. Last year, the U.S. military authorities announced that our troops would not be employed in eradicating the crop. But an article in U.S. News this past week-end tells us that our armed forces are again involved in trying to prevent the growing of poppies because the Taliban is using its revenues from the sale of poppies to finance its military operations against us. The result is that we are now engaged in a second war, this time without any help from the Afghans in the countryside who now view us as oppressors instead of liberators. 

We no longer can be sure we shall win this second war in Afghanistan. Indeed, the war on poppies may mean that we cannot win this war because there is no way to eradicate the crop upon which so many Afghans depend. We are at war not only against the Taliban but a substantial proportion of the population dependent on growing poppies. We have driven them into the open arms of the Taliban.

By exporting our war on drugs to Afghanistan, we gave the Taliban a second life.  There was no American interest in forbidding the growing of poppies. Almost all of the opium produced goes to Europe and Asia. Indeed, Russia, which has a growing heroin problem, has complained that the coalition fighting in Afghanistan is not doing enough to eradicate the poppies crop, as though that is what we are fighting for! Maybe we are. The data reported by the UN show this. According to the UNODC, the export value of opiates dropped from $3.4 billion in 2008, or one-third of Afghanistan’s GDP, to $2.8 billion in 2009, equivalent to one-quarter of the GDP. But it is becoming more and more costly in terms of money and lives to reduce it further. And if we defeat the Taliban, it will only be temporary. As soon as we leave, if we ever do, the poppies crop will grow again. It appears that we shall only be able to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan by coming to some agreement with the Taliban. We defeated them once but we are unlikely to defeat them again at a reasonable cost in men and money and without staying involved for an indefinite number of years.   

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Comment by malcolm kyle, 6/7/2011:

If you are a Prohibitionist then you owe us answers to the following questions:

#1. Why do you rejoice at the fact that we have all been stripped of our 4th amendment rights and are now totally subordinate to a corporatized, despotic government with a heavily armed and corrupt, militarized police force whose often deadly intrusions into our homes and lives are condoned by an equally corrupt and spineless judiciary?

#2. Why do you wish to continue to spend $50 billion a year to prosecute and cage your fellow citizens for choosing drugs which are not more dangerous than those of which you yourself use and approve of such as alcohol and tobacco?

#3. Do you honestly expect the rest of us to look on passively while you waste another trillion dollars on this garbage policy?

#4. Why are your waging war on your own family, friends and neighbors?

#5. Why are you so complacent with the fact that our once 'free & proud' nation now has the largest percentage of it's citizenry incarcerated than any other on the entire planet?

#6. Why are you helping to fuel a budget crisis to the point of closing hospitals, schools and libraries?

#7. Why do you rejoice at wasting precious resources on prohibition related undercover work while rapists and murderers walk free, while additionally, many cases involving murder and rape do not even get taken to trial because law enforcement priorities are subverted by your beloved failed and dangerous policy?

#8. Why are you such a supporter of the 'prison industrial complex' to the extent of endangering our own children?

#9. Will you graciously applaud, when due to your own incipient and authoritarian approach, even your own child is caged and raped?

* It is estimated that there are over 300,000 instances of prison rape a year.

* 196,000 are estimated to happen to men in prison.
* 123,000 are estimated to happen to men in county jail.
* 40,000 are estimated to be committed against boys in either adult prisons or while in juvenile facilities or lock ups.
* 5000 women are estimated to be raped in prison.

#10. And will you also applaud when your own child, due to an unnecessary and counter productive felony conviction, can no longer find employment?

Private prisons are publicly traded and their stock value is tied to the number of inmates. Here's what the UK Economist Magazine thinks of the situation: "Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little"

According to Paul Craig Roberts, a former editor of the Wall Street Journal and former assistant secretary to the treasury under Ronald Reagan, "Police in the US now rival criminals, and exceed terrorists as the greatest threat to the American public."

"Narcotics police are an enormous, corrupt international bureaucracy and now fund a coterie of researchers who provide them with ‘scientific support’, fanatics who distort the legitimate research of others. The anti-marijuana campaign is a cancerous tissue of lies, undermining law enforcement, aggravating the drug problem, depriving the sick of needed help, and suckering well-intentioned conservatives and countless frightened parents."  – William F. Buckley, Commentary in The National Review, April 29, 1983, p. 495

There is no conflict between liberty and safety. We will have both or neither. - William Ramsey Clark (1927--)

Response to this comment by Raymond Richman, 6/7/2011:
I don't know  why you believe I may be a prohibitionist. To the contrary, the point of my posting was the war on drugs does not work here and it resurrected the Taliban when we imposed the war on drugs in Afghanistan. I agree with most of your remarks.

Comment by M, 6/7/2011:

America has changed.  The soldier statesmen who molded American politics after WWII have left to field to younger less qualified men and women.  Be it trade deficits, budget deficits, or military adventurism abroad, our political and military leadership are willing to mislabel the outcome of every policy as a success. 

Response to this comment by Raymond Richman, 6/7/2011:
I believe you are right. We seem unable to acknowledge and get rid of failed programs.

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  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

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  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

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  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]