Newspaper logo  
  Just Say Nothing


Just Say Nothing

The Second Bush Administration’s Curious Silence About the Most Important Crop Report of 2004

by John Hickman

The ugly truth is that Afghanistan’s opium boom and the resulting flood of cheap heroin in Western Europe appears to serve important, if distasteful, foreign policy purposes.
The good economic news from Afghanistan is that its producers now dominate a major commodity export market. Impressive returns on investment and high growth potential have made the commodity the main engine for economic development in what official Washington likes to call the “world’s newest democracy.” The bad news is that the commodity in question is opium.

According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004, the latest in the series of annual publications of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the country will have produced an astonishing 87% of the planet’s entire opium crop this year, up from 76% in 2003. Total opium production soared to 4,200 metric tons in 2004, surpassing the previous year’s record-breaking 3,600 metric tons.

Afghanistan’s opium boom is wide as well as deep. Commercial growing expanded to all 32 provinces of Afghanistan in 2004, an increase from 28 provinces the year before. Under the Taliban, opium growing was concentrated in the predominantly ethnic Pashtun provinces of southern and southeastern Afghanistan. Now farmers in the northern provinces where ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks are the majorities are also raising the cash crop that earns 12 times the income per hectare of wheat. What’s driving this switch to opium is obvious. The return on investment is high and enforcement of laws against opium growing is effectively non-existent. Some 356,000 Afghani farm households, or roughly 10% of the population, depend on the crop that now accounts for the equivalent of 60% of the country’s entire Gross Domestic Product.

Afghanistan's total opium production soared to 4,200 metric tons in 2004, surpassing the previous year’s record-breaking 3,600 metric tons.

Opium production has become so successful that average farm gate prices for raw opium have actually fallen by more than half since last year, so that a kilogram of dry opium now fetches about $142. Despite declining producer prices, the total value of production increased from an estimated $2.3 billion in 2003 to $2.8 billion in 2004, with middle men taking roughly 80% of total earnings. That’s actually a better split for opium growers than for growers of legal crops like coffee and cacao. Coffee growers in Latin America and cacao growers in West Africa receive only tiny fractions of the total value derived in sales of these crops.

The single most interesting aspect of the United Nations opium crop report is the silence with which it was greeted by the White House. Explanation is in order when the second Bush administration passes on such a splendid opportunity to moralize.

Most of the heroin produced from all that opium is fueling criminality in Western Europe and Central Asia rather than the United States. Simply put: it’s someone else’s problem. There is also an ideological payoff from the flood of cheap heroin in Western Europe. News stories of the social and health effects of heroin addiction provide the Christian Right-- the administration’s ideological junior partners —another reason to denounce the supposed immorality of secular, socially democratic “Old” Europe. Another part of the explanation is that the opium boom is an inexpensive substitute for legitimate economic development. To date, most of the economic development projects funded by the United States in Afghanistan have involved agriculture and road building, priorities no doubt pleasing to the drug traffickers. Rehabilitated irrigation systems and free chemical fertilizer was meant to foster wheat production but is easily diverted to opium growing. The probable effect of the Kabul-Kandahar-Heart highway project is all too obvious. The problem with real economic development projects--creating income alternatives to opium--is that they would be expensive.

What’s driving the switch from wheat to opium is obvious. The return on investment is high and enforcement of laws against opium growing is effectively non-existent.

The final part of the explanation is that all that opium is being grown in Afghanistan.

Official Washington normally applies different norms of international behavior to its client states than to its adversaries, but previous administrations would at least have gone through the motions of appearing dismayed by this news. That the foreign policy double standards of the current administration are more obvious than those of previous administrations signals arrogance rather than honesty. Little imagination is needed to picture the neo-conservative clique infesting the Pentagon and Office of Vice President describing a comparable bumper crop of opium in Iran or North Korea as a casus belli.

Moreover, Afghanistan remains an especially dependent client state. The USmilitary is already stretched thin as it tries to impose a government in Iraq. Deploying additional American soldiers to join the 18,000 already in Afghanistan would be difficult. The Western European countries, Germany in particular, which have contributed units to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), have resisted proposed permanent large-scale troop deployments outside Kabul.

The ugly truth is that Afghanistan’s opium boom and the resulting flood of cheap heroin in Western Europe appears to serve important, if distasteful, foreign policy purposes. Opium growing keeps the Afghanis out of more serious mischief. Better they engage in organized crime than Islamist terrorism. The military deployments which would be needed to give Afghanistan a stable, legitimate government and the capital investments that would be necessary to put it on the path to industrialization are being used elsewhere, in Iraq. Dealing with Afghanistan remains an afterthought, the perennial lower priority in the foreign policy interests of the US and the other powers.

John Hickman is Associate Professor of Government in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College.

Copyright © 2004 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on December 17, 2004.

Local Stories, Events

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Books, Films, Arts & Education

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

02.16 New experimental drug rapidly repairs age-related memory loss and improves mood

02.16 Toxic black snow covers Siberian coalmining region [0:49 video; If its killing us, stop doing it]

02.16 Renewable energy will be world's main power source by 2040, says BP [But in America's capitalistic bubble, bribed-to-be-biased media and government defy reality]

02.16 My generation trashed the planet. So I salute the children striking back

02.16 US coastal businesses hit by everyday impact of climate change, study shows

02.16 What the pesticides in our urine tell us about organic food [What does inaction tell us about capitalism and our government?]

02.14 Exposure to Glyphosate-Based Herbicides and Risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: A Meta-Analysis and Supporting Evidence [If its killing us, make it illegal]

02.14 To avoid environmental catastrophe, everything must change [Consider why this headline is laughable or confusing to many, if not most, Americans...]02.13 Study Shows Toxic Pesticide Levels in Families Dropped by 60% After One-Week Organic Diet [2:10 video; Produce and canned vegetables laced with toxic chemicals—from fertilizers and herbicides, too—must be quickly phased out to use safe organic alternatives]

02.12 Biggest offshore windfarm to start UK supply this week

02.12 Scientists Are Totally Rethinking Animal Cognition

02.12 Politicians are complicit in the killing of our insects – we will be next

02.11 'People Shouldn't Be Going Bankrupt and Dying': Nationwide Week of Action Aims to Build Mass Movement Behind Medicare for All [Corporate control of government and media must be limited to allow efficient programs for the public good]

02.11 Sen. Chris Murphy to Doubters: Green New Deal 'Absolutely Realistic' and the Kind of Plan Needed to Avert Climate Disaster

02.11 Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature'

02.10 The truth about big oil and climate change

02.09 The potato solution: how the Guardian switched to biodegradable packaging [Non-recyclable products should be illegal]

02.08 Stripping Social Programs Leads to Lower Life Expectancy

02.08 UK's Met Office Warns Global Temperature Could Soar Beyond 1.5°C Threshold Within Five Years

02.08 Australia can meet Paris targets if government doesn't hinder progress, report claims

News Media Matters

02.16 We Shouldn't Stick Our Heads In The Sand, But We Do It Anyway [26:46 audio; Fear like Trump & Fox News incite makes us avoid unpleasant information we need to know]

02.16 The Realized Temptations of NPR and PBS [With bribed-to-be-biased media and government, we all live in a "Truman Show"-style concentration camp]

02.15 Samantha Bee: Fox News 'soiling themselves over the Green New Deal' [video clips from Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert]

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

02.16 ‘A Parkland every five days’: project tells stories of the children lost to gun violence [What does inaction tell us about capitalism and our government?]

02.16 Rambling Trump calls an emergency in speech that goes on and on and on [1:42 video; an incoherent president just paraphrases lies and distortion from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh...]

02.16 Calling Emergency Declaration a 'Patently Illegal Power Grab,' ACLU Sues Trump [Empathy and fairness are scarce when your President is a psychopath]

02.15 Bernie Sanders Wants to Expand Social Security

02.15 Progressives Need to Ignore the Noise and Stay Ambitious

02.15 Jayapal Says Medicare for All Bill Coming in Two Weeks as Expert Calls Plan 'Astonishingly Strong' [Corporate control of government and media must be limited to allow efficient programs for the public good]

02.15 To Be Crystal Clear: 'Medicare for All' Does Not Mean 'Medicare for Some'

02.14 Eugene V. Debs and the Endurance of Socialism [28:59 audio to listen via another window as you browse]

02.14 Pentagon Fears Climate Crisis, w/ Billions in Damage to US Bases & Societal Upheaval [In maniacally twisted capitalist countries inconvenient truths are ignored or harshly ridiculed, and Trump's stupid Wall obsession dominates the news instead.]

02.14 What's more offensive: a racist yearbook photo or structural racism?

02.14 American moms: let's stop feeling guilty and start getting mad

Justice Matters
High Crimes?

02.16 Elliott Abrams Defends War Crimes As Happening Back In The ’80s When Everyone Was Doing It

Economics & Corrupting-Capitalism

02.13 The Green New Deal offers radical environmental and economic change [For the survival of life on earth, capitalism must be effectively regulated or banned]

02.12 Climate and economic risks 'threaten 2008-style systemic collapse' [Willfull ignorance of Trump, Republicans, corporate-media and corporate-Democrats is steadfast, if not worsening]

02.11 Trump offers socialism for the rich, capitalism for everyone else [and the poor will die out like the insects]

02.10 Green New Deal Targets Link Between Trade Policy and Climate Change

International & Futurism

02.15 Who Is Really A Socialist? [Who is really a Republican, etc.?]

02.15 In Germany, the Green New Deal Actually Works

02.14 House passes bill to end US support for Saudi war in Yemen [Congress does something good again!]

02.14 Millions Flowed From Venezuelan Oil Firm to Small Bulgarian Bank [Transactions like Manafort performed for Trump. Which Venezuelan political leader is likely behind this—Maduro or Trump-supported Guaidó?]

02.13 As Macron Prepares New Repressive Measures, Yellow Vests and Red Unions Strike Together

02.13 Harrison Ford: leaders who deny climate change are 'on the wrong side of history'

02.13 Nationalist strongmen are bent on controlling women’s bodies

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
This site Web

Public Service Ads: