Newspaper logo  
 
 
  Just Say Nothing

ANALYSIS:

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

05.18 Chris Hedges - The American Empire Will Collapse Within a Decade, Two at Most [54:06 audioVery credible]

05.17 Jared Diamond: There’s a 49 Percent Chance the World As We Know It Will End by 2050

05.14 Literature provides shelter. That's why we need it [Wise reading builds better, more capable and imaginative brains—unwise or less reading does not]

Letters

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

05.22 Over 1,351 Climate Strikes in 110 Countries Planned for Friday as Global Revolt Escalates

05.22 Much shorter working weeks needed to tackle climate crisis – study [Less supervised internet-based work from home would be more likely]

05.22 Internal emails reveal how the chemical lobby fights regulation [Political lobbying including unlimited bribes is terribly effective, especially when politicians are immoral]

05.22 Is modern life poisoning me? I took the tests to find out

05.19 The heat is on over the climate crisis. Only radical measures will work

05.18 The selfish case for saving bees: it’s how to save ourselves

05.17 Revealed: air pollution may be damaging 'every organ in the body’

05.16 Cambridge scientists create world’s first living organism with fully redesigned DNA

05.16 Electric 'flying taxi' prototype unveiled by German start-up

05.16 ‘Extraordinary thinning’ of ice sheets revealed deep inside Antarctica

05.15 Plastic pollution harms bacteria that produce 10 per cent of oxygen we breathe, study reveals [We keep learning more about ways we're killing life faster and faster]

05.13 The Guardian view on a Green New Deal: we need it now [Inaction would bring faster hardship and death]

05.13 Los Angeles Fire Season Is Beginning Again. And It Will Never End.

05.13 Climate change: UN chief Guterres decries 'fading' global efforts

05.11 Bill McKibben and Elizabeth Kolbert on the U.N. Extinction Report

05.11 London to have world-first hydrogen-powered doubledecker buses [How avoiding immoral Capitalism wins!]

05.11 Nearly all countries agree to stem flow of plastic waste into poor nations [How avoiding immoral Capitalism wins!]

News Media Matters

05.22 What if we covered the climate crisis like we did the start of World War II?

05.22 Climate crisis more politically polarizing than abortion for US voters, study finds [Faux News spreads lies and distortion to millions in America, and mainstream news sources avoid annoying corporate advertisers—also programmed by Faux]

05.14 US Press Reaches All-Time Low on Venezuela Coverage

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

05.22 This Is How Republics Die

05.22 'It's a Sure Winner—Except for the Profiteers': 200+ Economists Send Letter to Congress Endorsing Medicare for All

05.21 Revolting Against Speaker's Inaction, Pelosi's Own Leadership Team Demands Trump Impeachment Proceedings

05.21 The Trump economy is hurting most Americans. Statistics won't fool voters

05.21 Trump stops ex-White House counsel Don McGahn testifying to Congress [What's Baby Trump hiding?]

05.21 Can It Happen Here? [What can we do with adults who act-out emotionally and physically like children]

05.21 E.P.A. Plans to Get Thousands of Deaths Off the Books by Changing Its Math [Wrong way Trump is at it again]

05.20 The big corporate shift on climate change

05.20 Pete Buttigieg Calls for Carbon Capture and Tax—Climate Proposals Backed by the Fossil Fuel Industry

05.20 'Unfathomable Evil Recognizing Unfathomable Evil': Trump's Possible Pardons of War Criminals Provoke Outrage

05.20 Amid Wave of Anti-Choice Laws Across US, Warren Introduces Plan to Protect Abortion Rights

Justice Matters

05.22 Outrage as Texas Senate Passes 'Unconstitutional' Bill That Would Hit Pipeline Protestors With Up to 10 Years in Prison

05.21 Rich white men rule America. How much longer will we tolerate that?

High Crimes

05.21 Palestinians need a state, not a 'business plan' [They have slow-motion genocide now...]

05.17 It’s Time to Stop Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

Economics & Corrupt Capitalism

05.22 Capitalism used to promise a better future. Can it still do that?

International & Futurism

05.22 Far-right Facebook groups 'spreading hate to millions in Europe'

05.21 Trump's China trade war risks damaging US economy, says OECD [Does Baby Trump know what he's doing?]

05.20 What longer paternity leave did for men in Spain

05.20 The rise of social supermarkets: 'It's not about selling cheap food, but building strong communities'

05.20 European elections: how the six biggest countries will vote

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
Google
This site Web

Public Service Ads: