The Corner

New Crops for Afghanistan

Jim Geraghty notes at the “Campaign Spot” that Barack Obama has suggested that unnamed commanders on the ground in Afghanistan have, in personal conversations with him, mentioned that they would find a couple of agriculture specialists more useful than another platoon. Jim notes that this entirely undermines Obama’s (and Hillary’s) argument that “we’re losing Afghanistan because all of our troops are in Iraq.”

If you talk to, if you talk to, commanders on the ground there, they’ll tell you, “I’d rather, instead of having another platoon, I’d like to have a couple of agricultural specialists.” We need more troops on the ground in Afghanistan, but we also need to teach them to grow things other than poppy. Right? And that’s something that we simply have not focused on. So that’s an excellent question, and it’s going to be one of the central challenges of my administration.

Actually, that isn’t remotely true. We, in the form of the DEA, have been sending specialists out to Afghanistan since the 1980s to persuade them, by carrot or stick, to stop growing opium poppies. Crop substitution is a central component of poppy eradication efforts. One year, large swaths of northern Pakistan and areas over the border in Afghanistan were planted with onions. That worked.

There is nothing complicated about why our many attempts have failed, or, at best, only temporarily displaced poppy growth. Market incentives have operated on small, very poor, former subsistence farmers, who got so much more cash for poppy than foodstuffs that it wasn’t a choice. The current Afghan administration has been unwilling to eradicate opium poppies because it would otherwise face a rebellion it can’t afford.

Furthermore, for the last 30 years or so, the bare minimum of roads and market infrastructure Afghanistan did possess have been diverted to other uses by war, and, ultimately bombed back to the stone age. You can’t convince farmers to grow their famous melons and apricots if they will inevitably rot for want of a market.

So, Senator Obama should learn that it is the market, abetted by terrorists who process and run the heroin to the West, and profit from it, that has left poppies in place, not the lack of agricultural specialists in the military. Indeed there can be no farming until the military renders local areas safe, which is best done with soldiers. But now, the market dynamics are changing, and may become helpful in the effort against poppies.

This morning NPR had a piece noting that the price of bread, which has risen everywhere, is taking a terrible toll in Afghanistan. People are paying as much as half of their (paltry) wages now just for flatbread (naan) to feed their families. International aid agencies are helping 20 percent of the population avoid starvation.

Normally this would be an untimitigated disaster. But — call him heartless — the Afghan Minister of Commerce noted in the piece that there was a silver lining. And that is that as food prices rise, and given increasingly better roads and other infrastructure, farmers will have real reasons to plant wheat instead of poppies. They can adapt quickly. That won’t solve the hunger problem, but it’s still progress.

Most Popular

Elections

An Election Too Important to Be Left to Voters

The Democrats believe that the 2020 election is too important to be left to the voters. It’s obvious that President Donald Trump withheld defense aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to commit to the investigations that he wanted, an improper use of his power that should rightly be the focus of ... Read More
Elections

An Election Too Important to Be Left to Voters

The Democrats believe that the 2020 election is too important to be left to the voters. It’s obvious that President Donald Trump withheld defense aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to commit to the investigations that he wanted, an improper use of his power that should rightly be the focus of ... Read More
Elections

It’s Not Because She’s a Woman

In early October, Elizabeth Warren hit her stride. Her stock in the Democratic primary had been climbing steadily since midsummer, and as Joe Biden continued to lag, the Massachusetts senator became the first presidential hopeful to overtake him as front-runner in the RealClearPolitics polling average. She’s ... Read More
Elections

It’s Not Because She’s a Woman

In early October, Elizabeth Warren hit her stride. Her stock in the Democratic primary had been climbing steadily since midsummer, and as Joe Biden continued to lag, the Massachusetts senator became the first presidential hopeful to overtake him as front-runner in the RealClearPolitics polling average. She’s ... Read More
Film & TV

Clint Eastwood’s Messy, Nuanced Triumph

After a pipe bomb exploded at a concert held to celebrate the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta’s Centennial Park, the FBI came to suspect that the security guard who discovered the device might have planted it to gain a reputation as a hero. The knotty story of that security guard, Richard Jewell, does not lend itself ... Read More
Film & TV

Clint Eastwood’s Messy, Nuanced Triumph

After a pipe bomb exploded at a concert held to celebrate the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta’s Centennial Park, the FBI came to suspect that the security guard who discovered the device might have planted it to gain a reputation as a hero. The knotty story of that security guard, Richard Jewell, does not lend itself ... Read More
Film & TV

A Feeble Fox News Attack at the Movies

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Oscar-winning talents to rip the lid off the scandal at NBC News, whose bosses still have suffered no repercussions for their part in the Harvey Weinstein matter and other sleazy deeds — but at least Hollywood has finally let us know how they feel about Fox News ... Read More
Film & TV

A Feeble Fox News Attack at the Movies

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Oscar-winning talents to rip the lid off the scandal at NBC News, whose bosses still have suffered no repercussions for their part in the Harvey Weinstein matter and other sleazy deeds — but at least Hollywood has finally let us know how they feel about Fox News ... Read More