Thursday, March 26, 2009

Afghanistan--Three Solutions

by Richard Crews

Much of Iraq (were it not for the language barrier) could be seamlessly transplanted into the U.S.--the urban centers and suburban sprawl, the paved highways and byways, the malls, the cell phones, the filling stations, the power lines, etc. would fit right in. By contrast, much of Afghanistan would only blend into a Stone Age setting: there are thousands of square miles of rugged mountains with isolated villages that do not have much in the way of sanitation, community water supplies, paved roads, etc.

In Iraq, overrunning a sophisticated, modern civilization (albeit run by a bloody dictator) did not pose much of a problem even for the Bush team (although controlling the ensuing the wave of inner-city vandalism and race riots was pretty much beyond them). But the situation in Afghanistan is altogether different; Afghanistan simply does not have the proper infrastructure to be invaded in a civilized way. Gangs of armed toughs run rampant through the countryside--stealing, raping, torturing, burning, reminding us that without adult supervision "boys will be boys"--even having the temerity to shoot at U.S. troops (who are only there to help them)--and then retreating to mountain caves or stashing their weapons and tilling their fields when the "cops" (that is, armed U.S. troops) come to town.

The U.S. would like to go home and leave Afghanistan to their own devices, but we can't. They provide a haven for Taliban jihadists to plan escapades like the 9-11 attacks against the U.S. and to motivate young men to martyr their way into a warped version of heaven with lots of available virgins.

There are three possible solutions to the Afghanistan problem.

First Solution: Allegiance to the Taliban is fragile and fickle; they buy the allegiance of the locals for about $8 a day. For $9 a day they would switch sides. This would cost the U.S. about $300 million a year--about 1/80th what our Afghanistan effort is now costing us. This is analogous to the U.S. program of buying the support of insurgents that turned the tide in Iraq (commonly politically attributed to "the Surge").

Second Solution: the main cash crop in Afghanistan is opium poppies (and the morphine and heroin derived from them). If we took seriously the lessons we could learn from the history of prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. and did away with legal restrictions on opium, that would effectively castrate the entire narco-trafficking system on which rural Afghanistan depends. Granted, opium derivatives are severely addicting--in fact, they are one of the Big Four addicting scourges of Western Civilization (alcohol, nicotine, opium derivatives, and cocaine). However, even though opium derivatives and cocaine do not have the serious health dangers that go along with alcohol and nicotine addiction (like cirrhosis of the liver and lung cancer), there are strong cultural prejudices against legalizing them.

An Alternative Second Solution: If we could come up with a cash crop for rural Afghanistan that would be competitive with opium poppies . . . but there simply isn't one.

Third Solution (and this seems to be the path we are undertaking): A long (decades long), expensive (hundreds of billions of dollars), carefully thought-out (which seems historically un-American) diplomatic and cultural effort to bring Afghanistan, kicking and screaming like a spoiled child, into the 21st century.

My recommendation: a combination of all three of these solutions.