No, I’m not referring to the War in Iraq, although frankly that invasion seems pretty silly at this point. I’m referring to the War on Drugs, yet another US war that cannot be won.
In the October 2006 issue of the UK magazine Prospect, Johann Hari reports that while US troops destroy poppies in Afghanistan, the world is short of the pain killer opium.
They are even short of morphine and opium in hospitals in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Hari writes, “In Kabul hospital, half the patients who need opiate-based painkillers are writhing in agony because they have none, while in fields outside and across Afghanistan, farmers trying to grow opiates are having their fields trashed and livelihoods destroyed by western troops. This is just the most ironic intersection between the west’s ‘war on drugs’ and what the World Health Organization calls ‘an unprecedented global pain crisis.’ The world is suffering from an opium drought–only about 24% of the demand for medical opiates is now being met.”
I remember a photo that was taken of me in a hospital bed two years ago, after my aneurysm burst. I was cuddling a huge white poodle-mixture mutt, a “therapy dog.” I remember hugging that dog well, because it was when I was finally starting to feel happy again. I was over the pain by then. It was supposedly the most excruciating headache I’d ever had in my life, but thankfully, I don’t remember it. Thankfully, also, I was given morphine to relieve it. What if I hadn’t been able to take it because there was none available?
I’m not a fan of casual drug taking. In fact, Whitley actually “stalked” our son for awhile when he was a teenager, following him around our neighborhood when he knew his friends were experimenting with drugs.
Whitley and I are at opposite poles when it comes to drug taking: he’s incredibly sensitive to drugs, while they don’t affect me much at all. That’s probably the main reason we’ve never taken them recreationally. We were once at a party where a lot of marijuana was being smoked and the air was thick with the fumes. The next day, Whitley came back to our apartment all wide-eyed and said, “I passed myself walking in the street.” The effects lasted for many days: At another party, a week later, he complimented our hostess on the goldfish swimming around in the base of a table lamp (of course, there weren’t any). When he lived in London as a young man, he was always hungry and friends would feed him things like hashish brownies, just to see his reaction. He once designed an album cover for a famous rock group under the influence of those brownies. He wasn’t aware of who they were, since he was only interested in classical music at the time (the character Connor, in his novel The Grays, is based on him).
I’ve never been able to figure out how to get high on drugs. I was afraid of needles (thank goodness) and couldn’t afford cocaine, so I was left with marijuana, but I never could figure out how to inhale (probably because I never smoked cigarettes). My friends insisted I try, so to get them to leave me alone, I pretended to be high. I learned there is absolutely no feeling more lonely than being the only sober person in the room! It was worse than faking an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrates so effectively in the movie “When Harry Met Sally.”
The friends I had in those days who smoked grass were quite lackadaisical about their lives, to the extent that many of them never buckled down and planned for the future until it was too late. Instead, they postponed college and job training and just hung out in a haze of smoke. That sounds great when we compare them to the hordes of over-stressed college students today, but none of them ever achieved very much in life.
Hari writes, “At the same time [as there is a shortage of opiates in hospitals], a violent and utopian attempt to physically stop Afghans from growing the opiates we need is causing us to lose a battle there that Tony Blair has called ‘essential for the safety of civilization.’ Human Rights Watch warns that the Taliban now effectively control southern Afghanistan, and many observers warn they could be in a position to march on Kabul and topple Hamid Karzai’s elected government within a couple of years.
“The war on the Taliban is being lost because the soldiers sent to fight it are also being forced to wage a ‘war on drugs’ that requires the destruction of a major part of the Afghan economy.” He quotes think tank director Emmanuel Reinert as saying, “The Taliban revival is directly, intimately related to the crop eradication program. It could not have happened if the US was not aggressively destroying crops. And it is the single biggest reason Afghans turned against the foreigners. If you look at where the Americans have carried out the forced eradication programs, it’s where people cannot feed their families because their crops have been destroyed. That’s where the Taliban is “gaining support.”
Hari says, “By demanding that more than one third of the country?s total economy be criminalized?and therefore placed in the hands of armed gangs and warlords, rather than taxed by the legitimate government-prohibition ensured [criminals] will always have bigger guns and more cash than the state.”
But he has a solution: “Bring the global drugs trade: Some 5% of global GNP?into the legal economy, so countries like Afghanistan and Colombia can reclaim their territory from armed gangs. But that is a goal that requires vast political change within the country driving global prohibition?the US.”
Here’s how it would be done: “In an Afghan equivalent to the EU’s (European Union’s) common agricultural policy, instead of destroying Afghanistan’s opium crop, our governments should simply buy it, and sell it on to produce legal opiate-based painkillers. Instead of approaching Afghan farmers with weapons, our representatives would be approaching them with cash.”
He ends the article with this provocative statement: “If [the West] really wants to live up to [our] commitment to save Afghanistan, [we] should bow out by orchestrating the biggest heroin deal in history.”
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