Monday, June 29, 2009

"We shall not sleep, though poppies grow..."

This is just good sense, and good counterinsurgency.

For too long, the chief modality employed for depriving the Taliban of the revenues from opium production (not to mention protecting the lives of countless addicts abroad) has been the eradication of poppy fields. Trouble is that the main victims of that policy were the poor farmers who would monetize the poppy crop, owing to their ability to store that crop for long periods of time, and sell it off to feed their families (as previously discussed in the comments section of this post):

So, instead of torching the livelihoods of rural farmers, the emphasis is shifting to interdicting the products further down the supply chain, while simultaneously providing aid and instruction in the production of alternate crops. Thus, the farmers are not alienated to the point that they throw in with the extremists, while the poisons and profits are denied the true villains in this travesty. Smart.

The libertarian in me is strongly in favor of judicious legalization of recreational substances. The Sisyphean effort to regulate behavior is a costly and destructive boondoggle which destroys more lives than it saves, and squanders precious resources for a doomed and wrong-headed goal. However, the psychologist in me cannot deny the recent uptick in the number of clients who labor under their addictions to pernicious and ignoble mind-killers in the opiate family, owing at least in part to cheap and plentiful supplies of the "good" brown heroin (as opposed to the black tarry stuff from Mexico) in recent years. Any project which simultaneously makes it more difficult to maintain a multiple bag-per-day habit, while also starving the miscreants who throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls counts as a win-win in my book.

As for the costs involved in aiding Afghan farmers to transition from poppy to some other crop (which may be less profitable by a wide margin, but which allows them to come in out of the cold), they are non-trivial in an absolute sense. However, given the obscene excesses of spending and debt with which the Obama Administration seems hell-bent on saddling our grandchildren, this at least has the rare distinction of appearing to be money well-spent, and a drop in the reservoir, at that.

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