Part 1…lying sidelong on a divan in the Senate cloakroom
That John Kerry and his Senate Foreign Relations Committee are a regular bunch of cards. Their Aug. 10 report, “Afghanistan’s Narco War: Breaking the Link Between Drug Traffickers and Insurgents”, is funnier than a barrel of drunk monkeys. It opens with the statement: “At the end of March when President Obama fulfilled his pledge to make the war in Afghanistan a higher priority, he cast the U.S. role more narrowly than the previous administration: Defeat Al Quaeda and eliminate its safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To accomplish these twin tasks, however, the President is making a practical commitment to Afghanistan that is far greater than his predecessor—more troops, more civilians, and more money.”
First, hasn’t that always been the goal of the U.S. in Afghanistan? Second, good luck. Third, only in Washington could someone say that the new, smaller goal is actually larger than the old, big goal with a straight face. No, the rest of the report doesn’t get any better. It’s full of whitewashes, diversions, sins of omission, and gaping holes. Welcome to rationalizations for a quagmire that you can believe in.
This report boils down the Obama administration’s change in talking points. Since it refuses to define “Taliban”, it is at pains to focus the discussion of Afghanistan as a narco war.
The drug trade that finances the insurgency must be stopped in order to provide security to stabilize the nation. True, so far as it goes. But it neglects to mention that opium has, since its criminalization, always found fertile ground in remote places that lack security. To be fair, the report does admit that opium cultivation increased after the U.S. invasion; however, it refuses to honestly address the fact that the U.S. invasion destroyed whatever security there was in Afghanistan and just how much opium production increased under the U.S. occupation. The Senate prefers to call the poppy boom an “unintended consequence”, which translates into something similar to “collateral damage” and suggests that the Senate is not very good at planning for the future.
Laying the historical context of opium in Afghanistan is the second most painful portion of the report. It’s fine if the reader has never opened a serious history book (Senators?), but otherwise reads like a shifty teenager trying to explain the stains on the carpet and smell of stale cigarette smoke when his parents return from vacation.
Before 1978, Afghanistan produced a paltry 300 tons of raw opium. Then it was “dragged through a decade of brutal warfare”…with no mention of the U.S. involvement. Not surprisingly, opium production grew amidst the chaos in agriculture that war generally produces. Those unintended consequences are a bitch. Again, there is no mention of the U.S. turning a blind eye (or aiding and abetting*) the opium trade that helped to fund the Afghan insurgents when we called them freedom fighters. We are treated to an oblique admission of some guilt on the part of the U.S. in the opium war-lords securing positions of power in the post-Taliban Afghan government. This was the unintended consequence of invading on the cheap.
It’s also nothing new. The South Vietnamese government was riddled with heroin traffickers, in this case selling mostly to American GI’s. In both cases, the U.S. finds itself between the rock of needing so-and-so in the existential fight against what’s-it-called and the hard place of so-and-so being deeply involved in the drug trade. But Richard Holbrooke has stated recently that the majority of the Taliban’s funds do not come from trafficking opium. They come from good old-fashioned racketeering, the payoffs being skimmed off the top of reconstruction money. (And, yes, Richard Holbrooke says a lot of things that may or may not be complete bullshit.)
The “Taliban” profits from the drug trade and the warlords-cum-government officials profit from it. Chances are that not a few Americans and perhaps some of America’s intelligence services have profited from the Afghan opium trade. The Russian mafia is certainly profiting, and Kosovar organized crime probably is too. That’s the thing about the drug trade, particularly the opium trade: there’s so much profit that everyone finds some. What’s interesting is that the Senate has come to the conclusion that Al Qaeda is not profiting from the Afghan drug trade. “Surprisingly, there is no evidence that any significant amount of the drug proceeds go to Al Qaeda.”
If our goal is to remove Al Qaeda and deny it safe haven, and Al Qaeda is not involved in the Afghan opium trade, then what does this beautiful little narco war have to do with our stated objective?
*“The CIA has admitted involvement with the money laundry known as the Shakarchi Trading which had handled both Kintex and Globus transactions as well as acting for the mafia in Sicily. The owner of the company, Mohammed Shakarchi, declared his firm had cleaned $25 million for the CIA between 1981 and 1988, which was used to support the Mujaheddin insurgents fighting the Russian occupation army in Afghanistan.” (Booth, 338) Kintex/Globus operated as a state-owned company in Bulgaria, earning fame and fortune by running guns into the Middle East and heroin into Europe.
Image credit: UPI