Drugs keep popping up on my radar screen today. Via Juan Cole, the first of a three part series on the drug trade in Afghanistan and how our drug war policies undermine the war on terror.
It's a long and wonky piece but well worth reading if you want to understand the nexus between the two failed "wars." Here, I'll just give you the money graf on how flawed the metrics are by which our government measures "success."
But most importantly, the map shows only the flowers. The U.S. Strategy nowhere claims, discusses, or even mentions whether “drug money” has decreased in northern Afghanistan. It has not. Balkh may be poppy-free, but its center, Mazar-i Sharif, is awash in drug money. The commanders who control Northern Afghanistan today are playing the same shell game that the Taliban did in 2000-2001. Some have suppressed cultivation (in Ghor and Bamiyan cultivation is hardly worthwhile anyway, the yields are so poor) but none have moved against trafficking. Most of them continue to profit from it, if only through what in the U.S. would be called "campaign contributions." Some of the same officials who today get credit for counter-narcotics efforts are generally believed to have become millionaires directly or indirectly from drug trafficking. Recently the deputy chief of the border police in a northern province was caught driving a car full of heroin north through Kabul. Why? Because there is still plenty of trafficking going through the North, and trafficking, not cultivation, is where the money is. An Afghan friend (and official of the Afghan government) told me that when he was in Bamyan recently, the north-south road by the lake at Band-i Amir was crowded like a highway with trucks taking the opium and heroin of Helmand northwards. The same traffic goes through Ghor. The arms traffic goes in the other direction, as northern commanders sell their Iranian weapons to dealers who re-sell them to the Taliban. [emphasis mine]
It's worth noting that poppy cultivation is now emerging as a cash crop in Iraq. To my knowledge this has yet to be confirmed by the major media because it's too dangerous to travel to those areas but I've been hearing rumors of this for quite a few months now and tend to think they're credible.
What an ironic legacy for Bush. The man who sneered at nation building in 1999 could well down in history as the one responsible for destroying two sovereign governments and creating terrorist ridden narco-states in their stead.