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

10.17 Could carbon-capture technology be a silver bullet to stop climate change?

10.17 So many animals will go extinct in the next 50 years that it will take Earth at least 3 million years to recover, a study has found

10.16 Can We Go Electric Before It’s Too Late?

10.16 'I leave the car at home': how free buses are revolutionising one French city [with electric or hydrogen buses the cities can be much less polluted and cleaner with far fewer cars]

10.16 Why Public Transportation Works Better Outside the U.S.

10.16 Scottish Power shifts to 100% wind generation after £700m Drax sale

10.16 Australia should be 'exporting sunshine, not coal', economist Jeffrey Sachs tells Q&A

10.15 'It'll change back': Trump says climate change not a hoax, but denies lasting impact [1:10 video; comfortable in his willful ignorance and denial, catastropic effects will be sooner and greater for doing nothing]

News Media Matters

10.16 The Growth of Sinclair’s Conservative Media Empire [Distorting news and issues "analysis" almost completely where cable and Internet are least available]

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

10.18 Are You Kidding Me?' Outrage as Democrats Push 'Incremental Steps' Over Bold Agenda Needed to Save Planet from Climate Catastrophe [Neoliberals still control Democratic Party leadership...]

10.18 Republicans are ramming through more judges — by holding hearings when everyone is out of town

10.18 Trump says selling weapons to Saudi Arabia will create a lot of jobs. That’s not true.

10.18 Republicans were supposed to run on their tax cuts. Instead, they’re running away from them.

10.18 The new Republican midterm strategy is to copy Democratic ideas

10.18 Beto O’Rourke shows Democrats how to talk about climate change

10.18 The Democrats’ Incredible Shrinking Message

10.18 'Lives Hang in the Balance': 21 Days Before Midterms, McConnell Admits GOP Still Salivating to Gut Medicare and Social Security

10.17 Republican lawmakers react to the IPCC report – ‘we have scientists’ too!

10.16 The biggest political problem in America, explained in one chart

10.16 GOP plan to get Americans off food stamps puts 4 million children and seniors at risk [What would Jesus say?]

10.15  3,121 desperate journeys  Exposing a week of chaos under Trump's zero tolerance

10.15 We need tax police – and they should go after the likes of Donald Trump [growing the mafia-state; to the extent allowed all tax evaded results in additional debt or taxes on honest citizens]

10.14 Goodbye, Political Spin, Hello Blatant Lies


10.13 With Campaign Only 'Powered by People,' Beto O'Rourke Shatters All-Time Senate Fundraising Record With $38 Million Haul [nullifying Citizens United—that empowers corporations and the super-rich—with a pledged commitment returns democracy powered by the people!]

Justice Matters

10.18 Is Fraud Part of the Trump Organization’s Business Model? [Obviously!]

High Crimes?

10.18 Nicaragua used 'weapons of war' to kill protesters, says Amnesty International [why refugee immigrants rightly see jail in the US as an improvement]

10.18 How We Can End the Saudis’ War in Yemen [There is NO EXCUSE for War Crimes]

10.12 Israel’s Illegal Blockade of Palestinian Civilians in Gaza has doubled Unemployment to 50% [5:51 video]

10.12 Trump Says Murder Shouldn’t Stop Saudi Weapon Sales Because ‘We Have Jobs’ [Morals and laws be damned! Trump grows his mafia-state for patron and personal profit]

Economics, Crony Capitalism

10.17 Britain fell for a neoliberal con trick – even the IMF says so

10.11 Climate change will make the next global crash the worst

International & Futurism

10.18 Audio Offers Gruesome Details of Jamal Khashoggi Killing, Turkish Official Says

10.18 Khashoggi Is The Tip Of The Bloody Iceberg: 10 More Reasons to Cut the US-Saudi Alliance

10.17 US-China tensions soar as 'new cold war' heats up [the world needs mutually-beneficial moral friendships among nations, not high-risk emotional outbursts]

10.17 US-China tensions soar as 'new cold war' heats up

10.17 Jamal Khashoggi: gory reports of killing emerge as Pompeo meets Erdogan [What explains Trump's opinion and behavior?]

10.16 Our leaders are destroying our future. Wentworth must be a referendum on climate change

10.16 Tax evasion: blacklist of 21 countries with 'golden passport' schemes published [mafia-states are increasing and growing, threatening financial health of non-mafia states where tax evaded becomes additional debt or taxes on honest citizens]

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: