Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Monday, November 15, 2004

Little A16 story in the Post caught my eye today, dealing with alleged "anti-narcotics" efforts in Afghanistan. Not a blockbuster story, but there are some strange things in the article that don't quite add up.

Some of the inconsistencies are simply humorous. For example, the report tells us that proceeds from opium poppy cultivation amount to about 50% of legal GDP in Afghanistan, dwarfing any single legitimate sector of the economy. That's the highest proportion of any country in the world (and after Myanmar at 25%, there isn't really even a third place. Then, two paragraphs later, we get U.S. and Afghan officials citing the "danger" that Afghanistan could become a narco state. There's also talk that with time, Saudi Arabia could become an oil state. We're keeping an eye on the situation.

Other parts of the piece are more disturbing. Let's parse this passage:

"Enmeshing U.S. troops in drug fights, [Pentagon officials] say, would alienate many Afghans -- some of whom have become useful intelligence sources -- and also divert attention from the core U.S. military missions of combating insurgents and aiding reconstruction."

At the risk of becoming embroiled in the intricacies of black market economics, I think it's safe to say that the key constituency "alienated" by drug interdiction efforts is the crucial "drug grower" demographic. So this is a tacit admission by the Pentagon that a substantial number of our people in Afghanistan are actually heavily involved in the drug trade. Of course, that can't come as too much of a surprise, as that's the only sector of the economy that's actually functioning.

But if the resistance fighters in Afghanistan are truly getting their funding from the drug trade, and the profitability of opium production compared to other pursuits is paralyzing the Afghan economy, how exactly would drug interdiction be a distraction from "the core U.S. military missions of combating insurgents and aiding reconstruction?"

The answer is that actually everything in this article is hooey. Or, if you prefer, Pentagon propaganda. Here's the real scoop - it probably will sound like tinfoil hat territory to many, but that's no skin off my ass:

In any war, the key strategic objectives have primarily to do with resources. World War II became, by the 1940's, a war for oil as much as territory. In Afghanistan, the only local resource worth having is opium.

Thus the Afghan war, which is primarily being fought not by U.S. troops but by proxy forces supported by Pentagon and CIA funding, is primarily a war for control over opium production. Involving U.S. troops in a large-scale opium eradication effort would be tricky because they would need to be told not to touch opium controlled by "our" side. If such an arrangement were to become public, it would be highly embarrassing.

Instead, when interdiction efforts come to naught despite the $700 million we've just shifted to "antinarcotics" in Afghanistan, we can easily blame the local authorities, citing "corruption" and "favoritism" and other qualities which Arabs (which Afghanis are not, but let's not quibble) are known to have in great abundance as a matter of genetics.

In fact, the plan will have been all along to do nothing to curtail the overall level of opium production, only to make sure that it's our allies and not our enemies who are profiting from it. The same thing has been going on in Colombia for decades.

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