Terrorism 101

Remember Afghanistan? We had a war there once. Not too long ago, in fact. It was, as I recall, because the government was suspected of harboring this guy, who was responsible for the tragedy we call 9/11. Soon after toppling that evil regime and bringing democracy and freedom to the Afghanis, we all but left, because we had to move on to our next stop on the Freedom Express, Iraq. Here’s the problem (hat tip Crooks and Liars):

Afghan heroin production represents an "an enormous threat to world stability" and the country is "on the verge of becoming a narcotics state," the U.S. State Department said in a report released on Friday.

Despite steps by the Afghan government and foreign donors, the U.S. International Narcotics Control Strategy Report found the Afghan "narcotics situation continues to worsen" more than three years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime.


The most dramatic conclusions in the report, an annual survey of the world drug trade, were about Afghanistan, where it praised U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai's efforts, but said Afghan poppy cultivation more than tripled last year.

"Afghanistan's illicit opium/heroin production can be viewed, for all practical purposes, as the rough equivalent of world illicit heroin production, and it represents an enormous threat to world stability," it said.

The area devoted to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose to 206,700 hectares (509,050 acres) last year from 61,000 hectares (150,700 acres) in 2003. Citing International Monetary Fund estimates that drugs account for 40 percent to 60 percent of the Afghan economy, the report added: "Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a narcotics state."

The report said Afghan political conditions improved last year, which included its October presidential election, but "criminal financiers and narcotics traffickers in and outside of Afghanistan take advantage of the ongoing instability."
What possibly could have been the cause of such ongoing instability? Might it have been this?

The high point of the American involvement in Afghanistan came in December of 2001, at a conference of various Afghan factions held in Bonn, when the Administration’s candidate, Hamid Karzai, was named chairman of the interim government. (His appointment as President was confirmed six months later at a carefully orchestrated Afghan tribal council, known as a Loya Jirga.) It was a significant achievement, but there were major flaws in the broader accord. There was no agreement on establishing an international police force, no procedures for collecting taxes, no strategy for disarming either the many militias or individual Afghans, and no resolution with the Taliban.


The Bush Administration, facing a major war in Iraq, seemed eager to put the war in Afghanistan behind it. In January of 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, made a fifteen-hour visit to Kabul and announced, “We’re clearly moving into a different phase, where our priority in Afghanistan is increasingly going to be stability and reconstruction. There’s no way to go too fast. Faster is better.” There was talk of improving security and rebuilding the Afghan National Army in time for Presidential and parliamentary elections, but little effort to provide the military and economic resources. “I don’t think the Administration understood about winning hearts and minds,” a former Administration official told me.

The results of the postwar neglect are stark. A leading scholar on Afghanistan, Barnett R. Rubin, wrote, in this month’s Current History, that Afghanistan today “does not have functioning state institutions. It has no genuine army or effective police. Its ramshackle provincial administration is barely in contact with, let alone obedient to, the central government. Most of the country’s meager tax revenue has been illegally taken over by local officials who are little more than warlords with official titles.” The goal of American policy in Afghanistan “was not to set up a better regime for the Afghan people,” Rubin wrote. “The goal instead was to get rid of the terrorist threat against America.”
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a singular goal of getting rid of the terrorist threat against America was acceptable—that we had no further responsibility toward Afghanistan and that as long as the terrorist threat had been removed, the war was a success. Turns out, we failed on that front, too, because there are immutable and demonstrable links between the drug trade and terrorism, intersecting at three key points: money, tools of the trade, and geography.

Someone* once said: It's so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists, that terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder. If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America. One might reasonably suggest, then, that quitting a country in which you’ve toppled the government and leaving it in a state of chaos, thereby rife with the opportunity for exploitation by drug traffickers and terrorists alike, is perhaps indicative of a significant contribution to terrorism.

How much longer will this kind of ignorant refusal to acknowledge the realities of our actions go on before we realize that we are our own worst enemy?

(Crossposted at Ezra Klein.)

* President George W. Bush (probably easily identifiable by the idiotic misstatement “if you quit drugs,” which should really have been something like, “if you quit paying attention to drugs”).

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