Monday, December 27, 2010

An Impossible Dilemma

Ryan Grim, author of the informative and entertaining book "This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America," writes about the recent WikiLeaks cables about the corruption of Afghanistan:
President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly released well-connected officials convicted of or charged with drug trafficking in Afghanistan, frustrating efforts to combat corruption and providing additional evidence that the United States' top ally in the country is himself corrupt. (emphasis mine)
This is a tad too simplistic, I think, given the situation in which we have placed Mr. Karzai. This is not to apologize for Karzai, or even excuse the actions and pardons detailed in the cables, but comments like this are misleading outside the context in which they take place.

Afghanistan produces 90% of the world's illicit heroin and opium. It is less of a country than it is federalism ad absurdum and its meager economy is dependent on that illicit trade. Poppy farmers are, for the most part, backward, illiterate tribesmen who care nothing for national politics. (No, really, Afghans are the most dangerously ignorant people this side of Glenn Beck.) There is no viable economic alternative to what they do.

So, at the same time the U.S. armed forces are trying to establish rapport with the locals--i.e., opium farmers--our DEA is doing everything in its power to stop them from making a living.

Enter Hamid Karzai. He has to run this pitiful, fractious, not-quite-a-state. Every domestic political interest of note is tied to opium one way or another. In addition, he is expected to balance this with American demands for accountability, open democracy, functional government, and, um, drug prohibition. Oh, and the Karzai administration doesn't exist without explicit support from Washington.

Good luck with that. Maybe when Karzai is done doing the impossible in Afghanistan, we can put him to work on cold fusion.

I don't doubt that Karzai is corrupt. I don't doubt that his administration is corrupt. But the United States government's policy in Afghanistan is impossible to reconcile with itself. That we expect a man to run a establish a functional country made up of tribal drug peddlers, with no hope of legitimizing the drugs for licit medical use, is criminally absurd.

bellum medicamenti delenda est.

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