The Devil's Poppy
Michael Yon reports that while things are improving in Iraq, Afghanistan has gone from a "near victory" to an uncertain standoff between NATO forces and an opium-fueled al-Qaeda/Taliban. The Afghan experience suggests that certain things do not lead, ipso facto, to victory. These include:
- multinational involvement and political legitimacy. Unlike the reviled "War in Iraq", the campaign in Afghanistan has wide political support among European allies
- the lack of adverse media coverage. Afghanistan has gotten a relatively soft ride from journalists
- international development assistance. The presence of NGOs and development agencies has not directly led to stabilization
And then it's interesting to focus on the things which may of themselves, lend themselves to defeat.
The most important of those factors may include the lack of an easily exploitable mineral resource, like oil. The great thing about the presence of oil in Iraq is that guarantees a relatively high standard of living to the population the moment stability is restored. On the other hand, peace in resource-poor Afghanistan doesn't automatically translate to prosperity. It is in fact entirely possible that lawlessness and violence offer greater prospects for economic gain that ordinary labor. While conventional economic development may take decades, banditry and the drug trade promise direct and immediate money.
Is there any greater prospect of eliminating the al Qaeda/Taliban than destroying the drug fueled insurgencies of Latin America?
But the opium poppy probably poses considerable political dangers to al-Qaeda as well. If experience with terrorist tactics has tarnished the image of the Jihad in the Middle East, a prolonged exposure to the drug trade will sooner or later corrupt al-Qaeda itself. A study of the life-cycle of insurgencies and revolutionary movements shows that when they cannot achieve power or attain their political objectives, they often degenerate into banditry. Men who have known no other life than an armed existence in the underground find it hard to transition to peace. Exactions eventually become an end in themselves and the young Jihadis age the temptation to buy comfort eventually becomes irresistible.