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The wrong war in the wrong place

There seems no end to the absurdity of US planners as to the conduct of the war in Afghanistan… surely the way to victory in all military conflicts is the unswerving pursuit of a single core objective (in this case the destruction of the Taliban and its power base) with ruthlessness and focus.

Yet what do we see? A demented conflation of the entirely justified war against the sponsors of the 9/11 attack on New York and Arlington, with the preposterous ‘war on drugs’. At a stroke, attacking the income of Afghan farmers and warlords alike thereby more or less guaranteeing that these people will make common cause with the Taliban on the basis that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

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19 comments to The wrong war in the wrong place

  • RAB

    The stupidity of our governments never ceases to amaze me.
    They have tried “erradication” many times. They have tried “encourageing” the farmers to switch to other crops ( like we all know corn brings in the same income as opium right???) We are loosing brave men day after day in a cause that the likes of John Read has no understanding of. Remember the hearts and minds, they may never even have to fire a shot shtick?!!!
    It’s simple. BUY THE GODDAM CROP before the smugglers do and at a higher price . What we do with stuff after that is up to us. There is a worldwide shortage of medicinal opiates, so that would solve that one. Plus we stop the pissed off farmers and their relatives joining cause with the Taliban and fighting us relentlessly for generations to come.
    Sheesh! Wont happen though. To logical for politicians.

  • Jim

    “surely the way to victory in all military conflicts is the unswerving pursuit of a single core objective (in this case the destruction of the Taliban and its power base)’

    Well, since the Taliban lives off the money the the heroin trade produces, it seems a reasonable intermediate target. Likewise certain elements in the Pakistani government are reasonable targets. The same goes for cetrtain Pakistani religious organizations. Spoiled for choice.

    The point about driving the farmers and warlords into the arms of the Taliban would be valid f they didn’t start out there in the first place. The Taliban didn’t just magically touch down in Afghanistan, or wander in from Pakistan. These farmers and warlords, at least the ones in the south and east, are blood kin to the people who make up the Taliban. It is not as if Afganistan is some huge, diffuse mass market composed of disconnected, independently acting individuals.

  • Scramaseax

    It’s also worth remembering that it was the Taliban that had largely stamped out opium production in Afghanistan. Seeing how the Afghan people seem to have a particularly long memory for history of offences against them, I don’t think they will all jump into the arms of the Taliban.

    I agree largely with RAB. If the countryside Afghan’s start making decent livings for themselves they’ll be comfortable enough to reject the Taliban’s bullshit. And any guerilla force is totally dependant on the locals support in the long run, so we should do as we did in Malaya and get them on our side.

  • Billy Oblivion

    The biggest problem is that large parts of Afghanistan are enviromentally (weather and geography) unsuited for any sort of large scale farming effort, which means smaller farms growing more economically “dense” crops.

    Opium is about perfect for this.

    Oddly enough it appears that there is a global shortage of legal opates ( http://www.senliscouncil.net/modules/media_centre/opeds/04_oped(Link) )

    Of course, doing this would piss of turkey, which is currently the only country “licensed” to grow opium, and would probably upset the pharmaceutical companies which are trying to find new and better ways of killing our pains.

  • RAB

    I dont know about you Billy, but I can live with Turkey and the Pharmacutical companies being pissed off!
    How many of our troops are they going to kill in retaliation for a little drop in income?

  • Dale Amon

    Glad you took this one up Perry. I have been thinking about it for a long time now but have not found the time to write on it. As I noted to you this weekend, I had a very interesting discussion with a member of the ‘sane left’ who happens to often be a co-worker at a company I do work for. He is also a local Democrat organizer. When I laid out some of the policy ideas that libertarianism backs, he found much of it quite palatable, and the idea of getting our noses out of the opium trade in Afghanistan made perfect sense to him.

    it seems to me to be a no-brainer that fighting a battle that has been a decades long fiasco in the USA and everywhere else where we have driven up the product price to the point where the underground economy can afford to buy the government would simply not be the thing to get involved in while trying to stabilize a country which has little else to sell.

    The proper thing to do is stay out of it entirely; suggest to the Afghan government that they just legalize it and put a modest tax on it. Then let the police and army defend the farmers. That way the farmers are beholden to the central government for security; they are in an above ground economy and not at risk from the criminal element;. They will not look to the Taliban and crime lords for protection and will not be a source of major income to those gangs.

    Make it safer and more profitable to sell the Opium through an above ground economy and we will have struck a really major blow at the enemy.

    And if a bunch of addicts in Europe and America can get enough heroin to send their sorry asses to the grave, so what? It is their lives to waste as they see fit.

  • tdh

    Of all the things that make the drug hunts not merely thoroughly moronic, but extremely evil, their imperialistic application against foreign citizens has to rank pretty high on the list — and not just in Afghanistan.

    It’d be nice to see US politicians engaging in a series of genuine debates — not one of those joint-press-conference farces currently called “debates” by the newsbimbos — each focused on one narrow question central to the drug hunts. Then the major difficulty’d be in keeping up with the flood of lies typical of the drug hunters; this would take an attention span much longer than a few hours’ entertainment.

  • Well, since the Taliban lives off the money the the heroin trade produces, it seems a reasonable intermediate target.

    There is nothing whatsoever reasonable about it. Hamid Karzai is little more than the mayor of Kabul…Every regional warlord, the people who are the real power there (which is to say, the people upon whose cooperation US/UK success in Afghanistan depends) make money from opium. THAT is why this policy is not just misguided, it is crazy.

  • Neil Eden

    Wha???? You mean the government is just as incompetant when it puts on the ol’ war bonnet as it is the rest of time? This wasn’t what we were hearing from the Samizdaters leading up to this ongoing overseas social engineering project.

  • Neil, are you saying wars cannot be won? As a minarchist I regard fighting wars as one of the few legitimate roles of the state and say what you like about Iraq, I cannot see how crushing the Taliban government of Afghanistan after 9/11 was ‘social engineering’ rather than self defence.

  • Jim

    There are contrary opinions to this piece. As I gather it, being denied the use of alcohol as a sedative, the Afghans spend their spare time among family and tribe, discussing everything under the sun.

    Good conspiracy-theorists all, they see the hand of the U.S. in all things. They’re not stupid: they know what the poppies are for. And according to Michael Yon, the resurgent Taliban and the lack of effort to eradicate the poppies, have convinced many of them that the U.S. is in cahoots with the Taliban.

    Perhaps some vigorous moves to stop poppy cultivation and provide some sort of alternative, might convince them otherwise.

  • Paul Marks

    The “war on drugs” is part of the general “if you are not in favour of a ban you must support the activity” attitude of our time (which, in turn, leads to the more extreme idea that everything is forbidden or compulsory).

    I remember the “Christian” Mr Gummer assuming (and saying) that all senior Federation of Conservative Student people must be sexual perverts and drug abusers because we opposed the laws he supported. As a rather puritan young man at the time I knew that he was mistaken (to put it mildly), but the public (and the senior members of the Conservative party) believed people like Mr J.S.G. – because if one is not in favour of banning something one must be in favour of doing it.

    There is still time to avoid a full scale war on drugs in Afghanistan – but pressure for one is growing.

    And yes, inspite of their own prohibtion activities (which were really an effort to a monopoly of drugs production in their own hands) in the past, the Taliban would find the population flocking to their banner.

    The whole war is full of P.C. stuff – government schools (especially for girls), ministry for women, quota in Parliament (and so on and so on).

    It is not a war to hunt down O.B.L. his associates and those who supported them (such as Mullah Omar).

    It is a war to build a social-democratic state (no surprise that the President of Afghanistan is a member of the Socialist [or rather social democratic] International).

    Sadly this is what both Mr Blair AND Mr Bush mean by “freedom” – remember what I think of as the standard “Captain Kirk” speech. Whever the script writers of “Star Trek” forgot about the “nonintervention principle” (which was in a good few episodes) Captain Kirk would make a speech about how the Federation would bring “freedom” to some primitive culture – this freedom was always defined as “schools, hospitals….” and so on.

    Sadly the leaders of the West think they are in command of Star Fleet – and they have not understood that there are no all powerful script writers who can make everything turn out O.K. no matter how many mistakes are made.

  • Julian Taylor

    It’s also worth remembering that it was the Taliban that had largely stamped out opium production in Afghanistan.

    No it hadn’t I afraid. The Taliban severely cut back the opium crops in 2000 for just one reason, to increase the taxation it exerted on opium farmers – a reason I feel that many farmers would still not support the notion of ‘the enemy of my enemy’ for. In fact the 1999 harvest, again under the Taliban, still holds the record for the highest yield ever of 4581 tonnes, surpassing even the 2004/2005 season’s yield which was expected to come in at 7200 tonnes but, maybe as a result of our action or not, came in at under 3500 tonnes. Indeed we might think it strange that when plans are afoot to curtail opium production in Afghanistan then the farmers apparently double their production efforts.

  • I agree with PdH, RAB and Scramaseax (back now after the recent knife amnesty?). The War of Drugs is totally counter-productive. The NHS is desperate for opiates indeed and if we stopped creating the environment for gangs and mayhem we would all be better off.

    I saw part of a discussion on Starkey Last Word the other night on this very topic. First time I saw a dead person talking, in fact (they had dug up some Zombie to participate…a great ad for keeping people away from drugs!).

  • who, me?

    Neil, are you saying wars cannot be won?

    You weren’t pushing a war; you were pushing a social reengineering of two societies, only one of which was involved in 9/11.

    A govt can obviously defeat an opposing army. A govt cannot ‘rebuild’ a society. Your support for the WOT was based on the latter, not the former.

  • You weren’t pushing a war;

    And that would be why I was calling for a… war… to overthrow the Taliban?

    you were pushing a social reengineering of two societies, only one of which was involved in 9/11.

    I did not see Iraq and Afghanistan as being part of the same objective. I supported (and still do) the intervention in the (then) on-going Afghan civil war as part of the fight against Al Qaeda… I supported (and still do) the idea of overthrowing Saddam Hussain for the simple reason I support overthrowing all tyrants, such as the ones in Burma, China, Russia, Belorus, Saudi Arabia, et. etc… and take the view that when an excuse and an opportunity comes along to see the end of a tyranny, I am not going to line up with the right of sovereign governments to murder and torture people just so long as they do it outside the USA or UK and do not do it to me (a possession you obviously take). Places like China are clearly not suitable to beat on militarily as things stand, but Iraq was (obviously) rather different.

    Presumably you feel the Allied Powers in 1946 should have re-established a fascist government in West Germany as to do otherwise would be “social reengineering” (and BTW, it is a state being re-engineered, not a society… suggest you ponder the difference).

    But let me guess… you are a Rothbardian and thus think going to war with Nazi Germany was a terrible idea in the first place.

  • who, me?

    Places like China are clearly not suitable to beat on militarily as things stand, but Iraq was (obviously) rather different.

    Is it? We beat their military, but your social reengineering seems to be going into the toilet. Just like those who are really suspicious of the competence of Big Government would have predicted.

    Presumably you feel the Allied Powers in 1946 should have re-established a fascist government

    Presumably, you’ve noticed that Baghdad is much more dangerous for it’s occupiers several years after it fell than Berlin was. Presumably, you’ve noticed that Germany (and even Japan) were modern nations w/ something to build on. Presumably, you’ve noticed we kept the Japanese emperor on because trying to totally reengineer that society wasn’t practical.

    and BTW, it is a state being re-engineered, not a society… suggest you ponder the difference

    No, you ponder how to bring ‘democracy’ to a part of the world that never had it w/o reengineering society.

  • who, me?

    I notice you specified ‘West’ Germany. Is that because East Germany, Poland, Czecksloviakia, etc (places we went to war to ‘free’) just wound up being ruled by the number 2 mass killer in history (Stalin) instead of number three (Hitler)? So much for war making the world wonderful.

  • Is it? We beat their military, but your social reengineering seems to be going into the toilet.

    Ah, so you really do think we should have put a Ba’athist regime in power. Figures. I guess if you regard removing a government that Michel Aflaq, modelled on Hitler’s Nazi Party is ‘social engineering’ (never mind the fact we are talking about governments here, not societies) then you presumably regard all political change as ‘social’ engineering and presumably see state and society as one and the same. Fascinating.

    And as it happens, I could not care less about ‘democracy’ (vastly over-rated) in Iraq. My desired outcome is less tyranny than under Saddam, not more democracy.

    Just like those who are really suspicious of the competence of Big Government would have predicted.

    And your solution to Big Government in Iraq was… leave a really big Ba’athist government in control. Got it. That was clearly the way to more liberty and prosperity in Iraq. Silly me.

    Yes, you really must be a Rothbardian. Or a Nazi. Kinda hard to tell the difference sometimes, which is odd seeing as Rothbardians claim to be anarchists… and yet they keep urging policies that leave mass murderous totalitarians in control of millions of people.