THE BLOG
08/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Freeing of Afghan Poppies

Kabul, Afghanistan -- Well it's official. Everyone can now relax. The US government is scraping its opium poppy eradication program in Afghanistan.

Convinced that razing the cash crop grown by dirt-poor Afghan farmers is costing badly needed friends along the front lines of the fight against Taliban-led insurgents, U.S. authorities say they are all but abandoning the Bush-era policy of destroying drug crops.

Wait! The Associated Press article US moving away from Afghan drug eradication says "the Bush-era policy of destroying drug crops"? What is the author smoking?

Neither Bush Administration nor Obama Administration has ever had any such program. Ask any journalist, any soldier, any junkie, ask anyone with a vague idea of what is happening in Afghanistan and they will say this is utter bunk. No one has been trying to eradicate poppies which is why poppy production continues to go through the drug roof.

When I was in Farah and Helmand Provinces several months ago, I was struck by how careful our troops were in not stepping on a single blooming poppy. Actually, their sensitivity for Afghan entrepreneurs and concern for the junkies in the West was quite stunning. Giving me another of my Vietnam flashbacks.

When traveling on our tracked vehicles in Vietnam, we had no hesitation to rip right through a farmer's field. I still remember one farmer. As we approached his property, he came rushing toward our tracked vehicles with arms waving and his brown weathered beaten face pleading as he begged us not to drive through his rice paddies. This of course produced a big yawn from us, and six or so of our tracked vehicles drove straight through his paddies destroying maybe 20 percent of his crop. On our way back, we might have gotten another 20 percent. On the other hand, on our way back we might have gotten a mine.

In Vietnam, we didn't understand the critical importance of the local population. How to get them on our side, if that was possible. Nor did we understand the universal principle that people want to be treated with respect and dignity. Nineteen year old Americans with a rifle in their hands often have trouble with that principle. Nor did we grasp to tear up some poor farmer's field is a no-brainer, which on your return trip might get your low wattage brain blown to smithereens.

Instead, we were told our job was to kill the enemy, which we did. And we did that very well. But that did not, strangely, win the war. We were clueless that factors other than corpses won wars.

In Afghanistan, the US military, and others, have made some progress in understanding the world and understanding war. And you don't just rip through some farmer's field.

Heroin may be a deadly scourge, but there are more pressing concerns, U.S. officials say, and ways to fight drug production without driving Afghan farmers into the hands of the Taliban.

As I said, we have not attacked poppy farmers, and drove them anywhere. That is a myth. We have been engaging in one of the other "ways," specially, we've been doing nothing. But doing nothing turns out not to be cheap, for American taxpayers. It has been costing us $45 million a year! Maybe doing something would be cheaper.

Yet, doing nothing turns out to be the best policy if the only alternative is to stomp or spray or plow-up or blow up Afghan poppy fields and deny subsistence farmers who have seven or so mouths to feed the money to feed those seven or so hungry mouths. But isn't there a third option? Myth 2: there are only two options on the board of play. Baloney.

There is something other than doing nothing which is allowing the Taliban to rake in $50-plus million through its drug protection racket, or destroying farmers' livelihood and have his family turn into skeletons? There is a sensible third way.

At this critical juncture when the Associated Press article could have stopped blowing smoke -- new policy ... break with Bush Administration ... no more eradication -- the writer nods-off. There is nothing about crop substitution, price supports, and market infrastructure. Not a word about a comprehensive agriculture system that could give Afghan farmers the money they need to feed their families, and give the UN and NATO a significant reduction in poppy cultivation. Poppies that result in more than 90 percent of the world's illegal heroin and is a bonanza crash crop for the Taliban to buy guns and bombs for this increasingly bloody war. Not a word!

For years we have been hearing about a crop eradication program that does not exist, how many more years will it be before we hear about a crop substitution program that could exist?