Afghan poppies

Was listening to the Kojo Nnamdi show today; they were talking to Gretchen Peters about poppies financing the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Her conclusion was that there was no way to help the situation until rule of law was established over there. The poppy wasn't hygienic, so it wouldn't be useful medically (which seems a bit suspect to me, but I don't know nearly enough to say that with confidence). And selling it elsewhere wouldn't pay, because the legal market for poppy prices it similarly to wheat.

While there's more than a little bit to that (it would give the US an exit strategy, for one thing), it ignores the demand-side attack to the problem. That is to say, what happens if the US decriminalizes heroin and other drugs. Most likely, it would kick the crap out of the value of the poppies.

And it would have several other salutary effects. 1) We wouldn't be paying our enemies. 2) Recidivism rates on drug users would probably drop (since they'd be treated, rather than incarcerated). 3) It would provide more income for our cash-strapped government. 4) It would probably become easier to keep drugs out of the hands of minors.

The latter point probably needs a little explanation, since it is counter-intuitive for most people. As things stand right now, the risks are equivalent for selling to adults or minors. Either way, if you get caught, you're screwed. But if you could sell legally to adults, would you instead risk prosecution to sell to minors? A few would, probably, but their market would be tiny (since they'd probably be unable to sell to adults, based purely on price).

One good thing that did come up (though probably could have used more discussion) was combining narcotics and intelligence operations, and hoping to snare terrorists while just tracking the money in the drug operations. The point that really needed to be discussed, though, was that all successful counter-terrorism operations worked by treating terrorism as crime, rather than as war. For one thing, treating it as war glorifies it, making recruiting easier for the other side. It also attributes a lot more capability to the terrorists, again easing recruitment for them.

After all, some people only really care about the spectrum of powerful to powerless, and less so about the good vs evil spectrum. To those people, hearing that those terrorists are so powerful is an unavoidable siren's call. We really don't want to encourage radicalization of such people.

So let's focus on things that work, ok?

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