I published the article
below nearly two years ago, then republished it again February 13, 2009 with
the paragraph between the dotted lines. Tragically, things have only gotten
worse, and my addendum paragraph now seems woefully naive, at least to me.
Obama has decided to automate much of the war. War was never supposed to be easy, fought by remotely controlled drones, and far-firing missiles. It is supposed to be hard, bloody, costly and disheartening. It is now none of those things to the average American. Indeed, you have to look hard for stories on Afghanistan at all, and then the MSM portrays us as somehow winning this war, as we supposedly won Iraq - which is neither over (was Vietnam over when we pulled the last of our combat troops out in 1973, or when Saigon fell in 1975?), nor settled on terms we will necessarily like (it is still possible Iraq will split into 3 parts, or go back into civil war).
As for the rest of the article, I stand by my proposal, and only note that others have discovered that working with the civilian population instead of treating it as something to be swept out of the way or ignored, has worked wonders. It turns out, as I said, that people are interested in earning money and having a decent lives for themselves and their families, more than in ideology. Only a very few of the Taliban are hard-core against America, and with only 100 al qaeda in Afghanistan, they should be treated as a criminal element, not the grand enemy of civilized people everywhere.
I thought this article was worth revisiting...again.
--------------------------------- From February 13, 2009 ------------------------
Obama's recent shift to ending the policy of bombing Afghan Farmers' fields and then expecting them to support us, is a welcome Change we can believe in (I hope), but what took them so long? Below is a more detailed version of the Obama plan I presented last February. The logic and historical precedent still holds.
The recent surge in poppy production has to be dealt with in new and novel ways that play to our strengths and not to the Taliban's.
As NATO contemplates a renewed attack on the embedded Taliban--a surge which has already cost hundreds of innocent Afghan lives as well as those of our own troops--it's worth asking if there is not another way; another way to curb the Taliban influence that does not involve killing people.
History is helpful. In the 1970s, Turkey was the largest supplier of heroin in the world. Then the United States got smart and started buying the poppy crop--we still do. The government sold it to U.S. pharmaceutical firms to make legitimate drugs--after all, there are no bad plants, only bad uses for plants. The drug cartel lost control of Turkey and today Turkey is one of our staunchest allies in the Middle East. We later tried a similar approach in India with good results.
From the CIA world fact site we know that the GDP of Afghanistan in 2006 was something under $40 billion. Today, over half the GDP of Afghanistan is tied up in poppy production in some way, and is controlled by rogue warlords who channel profits directly to the Taliban--some $100 million a year. This is an extremely lucrative business and there is nothing even remotely comparable in that region of the world. Sixty percent of Taliban income comes directly from poppy production.
On the other hand, growing food is either uneconomic for the average afghan farmer, or is outright forbidden--at the point of a gun--by the Taliban militia who control the rural regions.
Instead of fighting the Afghan farmer, who is caught in an impossible position, we should buy the crop--all of it--from him. This would:
A. End 60% of Taliban income immediately.
B. Put us on the side of the Afghan farmer instead of making us just one of his several enemies. Hearts and minds...
C. Put a serious dent in the heroin trade - a concern also for Russia and Europe, who blame us for the escalation of their drug problem.
D. Allow us to influence the Afghanistan people by becoming their respectful partner instead of their bullying enemy (there is something extremely unseemly about a country of our size, might, and moral stature, going around burning fields and dropping bombs on subsistence farmers in a desperately poor country. Obama may recognize this intuitively, but mollifying words have to be backed up with concrete action).
Eventually, we need to encourage Afghans to grow food instead of Poppy plants. We should pay a 10% premium over the market price for poppy, for food staples. By finally establishing a middle class of farmers, shopkeepers, and other distributors, supported by microloans, we would cut the Taliban off at the knees. And by supplying a profit motive, the new middle class would be encouraged to form militias or to finally build up the Afghan army to protect themselves against the Taliban--who, despite popular perception, are largely loathed by the average Afghan citizen. As President Obama has publicly stated, you build a Democracy from the bottom up, not from the top down. We have a chance to do this in a way that is cheaper, far less violent, and far more effective than the shoot and burn approach we've tried thus far.
There are other answers to the Afghan situation, if people are willing to examine history and to break out of idealogical molds. We need to play to our strengths, not to the Taliban's. In a game of attrition, history shows that those who try to forcefully bend Afghanistan to their will, eventually lose.