"so long as everyone's O.K. with that"?

I hate it when something makes absolutely no sense and this thing doesn't.

Unless....

(And I do hope I'm wrong in my suspicions.)

Anyway, what prompted hours of (ongoing) puzzlement was Glenn Reynolds' link to this post by the Corner's Andrew Stuttaford.

I've been thinking about what it might mean if the following contentions by Stuttaford (which I'll summarize) are correct:

  • There is a worldwide, 10,000 ton shortage of medical opium;
  • Afghanistan produces 4,000 tons a year;
  • Afghanistan has a competitive advantage (established crop, cheap labor, etc.);
  • Attempts at crop eradication failed by increasing prices, and "created an additional incentive to grow more the following year";
  • All leading to additional political support (and a source of profits) for the Taliban.
  • This leaves me very confused. If we assume Stuttaford is right, and if we assume our government is sane and rational, why aren't we buying the stuff or simply allowing the Afghans to sell it on the legal market? According to Stuttaford, the explanation given for the objection is that "the developed world relies too much on opiates for pain relief." Nonsense. I'm not buying that one. The legal prescription by doctors of pain killers comes down to highly individualized individual medical decisions, governed by laws which vary in each country. The idea of influencing the medical community of doctors, patients, and pharmacists around the world by artificially creating (or exacerbating) an international opium shortage is not a rational basis for any country's foreign policy decisions. (And it sounds like something that couldn't be carried out unless you subscribe to the idea that the whole world is run by the Bilderbergers.)

    Stuttaford properly dismisses concerns that opium might compete with the EU:

    Do I think there's a danger that the result of allowing Afghans to sell their opium to pharmaceutical companies will be to create an 'opium mountain' to rank with the produce mountains created by the EU's Common Agricultural Policy? I'd be very surprised, but even if it does, so what? Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, a little income support wouldn't hurt. In fact, it might well do some good.
    He's right. None of this make sense, and the objections are bogus.

    But it's Stuttaford's last paragraph that really has me scratching my head:

    As for legalization, you wisely dodge that endless controversy on the grounds that it's never going to happen. You are probably right, but it's still well worth remembering that the current approach effectively acts as a generous subsidy to the Taliban, al Qaeda and, almost certainly, numerous other terrorist groups, but so long as everyone's O.K. with that...
    A generous subsidy to the Taliban, al Qaeda and, almost certainly, numerous other terrorist groups?

    I'm not O.K. with that, O.K.?

    I might be cynical, but I am not so cynical or paranoid as to imagine that my government would contemplate or countenance deliberately subsidizing the Taliban as official policy. That's 9/11 conspiracy-style nonsense.

    But I'm wondering whether there might me another possibility, and whether it might be grounded in the well-known desire in certain special interest quarters to conflate terrorism with the war on drugs. (Might it be someone's goal to expand the narcoterrorism meme, perhaps?)

    Mostly in bits and pieces, I've been reading various opinions in support of the drugs=terrorism allegations for years, but suppose a major amount of opium were allowed to flow into the hands of the enemy in a country where this fact could be easily documented. Wouldn't that supply a perfect propaganda coup for the drug "warriors" who've long awaited a chance to claim they're genuine combatants in the war on terror? There could be a merger of military and law enforcement by way of Homeland Security, major utilization of Patriot Act provisions against drug dealers (all of whom could be considered "financiers" of terrorism), and with any luck, even individual users might be considered legally linkable to terrorism. They're already using SWAT teams for routine drug enforcement; throw in the terrorism angle and who would dare object (save the libertarian fringe and a few bloggers)?

    Sorry, but such a result is not OK with me, and I say that as a longtime supporter of this country's war on terror. It's bad enough that there are those who seek to conflate the drug war and the war on terror, but if there's even a possibility that my admittedly paranoid suspicions might be right -- that drug warriors might not mind seeing the Taliban get its hands on 4000 tons of opium despite a legal need for it -- then the implications are disturbing.

    For starters, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I voiced support for a "domestic intelligence service" with special powers to fight terrorism. Any serious attempt to conflate terrorism with the war on drugs would run counter to the idea of such an agency without police powers, by blurring the distinction between the war on terror and domestic law enforcement.

    It's bad enough that the drug war creates economic opportunities for the enemy. But looking the other way and letting them have opium in the face of a worldwide shortage?

    I hope I'm wrong in my speculations about the reasons, but whatever they might be, it's definitely not O.K.

    I agree with Glenn Reynolds that this issue reduces itself to three simple words: buy Afghan opium.

    MORE: According to this detailed report, the total income Afghan farmers receive from opium is around $100 million a year. If the world needs it and there's a legal market for it, buying it seems like common sense. (There I go, talking common sense in the context of the drug war!)

    UPDATE: I should make it clear that I agree with everything Andrew Stuttaford said. A commenter seemed to think otherwise in saying the following:

    I did not take Andrew's statement to be in the vein of drugs=bad and terrorism=bad therefore drugs=terrorism. If opium is going for a premium and the Taliban controls some territory where they can grow opium, or take it from those who do, they can finance their weapons purchases through it. Leaving it at the status quo does that. I don't think the policies in this case are linked.
    I do not think drugs=terrorism, nor do I think Stuttaford said that. I think that legally buying the opium from the farmers who grow it is better than fostering an illegal underground economy. In my view (and, I presume, Stuttaford's), criminalizing opium growing only drives it underground and provides a financial incentive for the farmers to sell their crop to terrorists.

    Again, if there is a worldwide legal market for their opium, why not buy it?

    posted by Eric on 09.13.06 at 05:14 PM










    Comments

    The drugs/terrorism angle works both ways. Terrorists may be able to reap large profits to stage their acts because it is contraband. If it were a normal commodity, it would not help them so much. That is not to say that they wouldn't make any money from it, but that it wouldn't be particularly profitable.
    I did not take Andrew's statement to be in the vein of drugs=bad and terrorism=bad therefore drugs=terrorism. If opium is going for a premium and the Taliban controls some territory where they can grow opium, or take it from those who do, they can finance their weapons purchases through it. Leaving it at the status quo does that. I don't think the policies in this case are linked.
    I could go on and on about this, so I will leave it at that (I have to go home now)
    Apologies if I misread, long day...

    anomdebus   ·  September 13, 2006 7:25 PM

    I think this is a little misguided. Look at this way: there are two markets, licit and illicit.

    Have you ever heard of "cornering a market" to drive up prices? As long as the Afghans have a choice of markets the product is going to the highest bidder. Greater licit supply will depress that market price and increase the illicit market price.

    RiverRat   ·  September 13, 2006 7:54 PM
    hedy   ·  September 13, 2006 9:04 PM

    I take the cynical view on this, which is that we don't buy it because our politicians are bought off directly, and/or influenced by people who are bought off. G[a]mbling is legal just about everywhere in the US except Hawaii. Hawaii is a huge tourist destination, and we could easily destroy Vegas if we had c[a]sinos, even if they were only allowed to operate on cruise ships sailing around the islands etc. We don't because the Vegas c[a]sino management companies pay off our politicians. There are no bribes per se, but every major political figure in Hawaii knows they have a great job waiting for them as a consultant or even as a partner in a law firm that works for one of those companies. BIIIIIIIIIG money talks. Common sense walks. People in Hawaii rarely even talk about c[a]sinos. Or even l[o]tteries, etc.

    Harkonnendog   ·  September 14, 2006 10:52 PM

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