Opium, Cheap

     I don’t want to say I’m smarter than everyone else when it comes to Afghanistan and opium, but I seem to be smarter than everyone else when it comes to Afghanistan and opium.
     There is a simple way to solve the “problem” of Afghanistan’s opium production, which accounts for 90 percent of the world’s supply.
     The solution is cheap and peaceful; it will make us friends instead of enemies and it won’t kill anyone.
     We should buy the whole crop. Every year.
     It will cost us less than $1 billion a year at today’s prices.
     It costs us $1 million to keep a single U.S. soldier in Afghanistan for a year. With 53,000 U.S. troops in country now, that’s $53 billion a year.
     We could buy up the whole opium crop for less than the price of keeping 1,000 troops there – less than 2 percent of our troop expenses.
     We could do whatever we like with the opium after we buy it. We could burn it, sell it to drug companies that need it to make painkillers for hospitals, or we could insert it as suppositories up the Republican congressmen and senators who so desperately need it.
     Facts about opium are notoriously unreliable. The primary liars about it are the governments that pretend to want to eradicate it. But even accepting the high end of estimates from semi-reliable sources, such as the Washington Post, The New York Times, Reuters, our government and others, it should cost less than $1 billion to buy up the whole crop. That way the narcos won’t get it, or the Afghan warlords. Of course, that would bring down our friendly Afghan government, but you’ve got to take the good with the bad sometimes.
     The entire world needs about 5,000 tons of opium a year for painkillers, according to those semi-reliable sources. Afghanistan is expected to produce 6,900 tons this year, and the wholesale price for opium today, according to Reuters, is $64 a kilo, or $64,000 a metric ton.
     At that price, we could buy Afghanistan’s entire opium harvest this year for $442 million.
     We could offer twice the money the warlords and drug lords pay, and still buy it all for less than $1 billion.
     And if our generous government program drives up the production next year, so what? That will drive down the cost, and it will still be cheaper by far than making war against people on the other side of the world, who hate us more every day whether we claim to be winning or losing.
     It should come as no surprise that the biggest opium-growing regions are Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the Taliban strongholds where so much of the war is being fought.
     Opium is why the war is being fought there. If we bought it all, there would be less to fight about.
     Estimates of opium’s share of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product vary wildly, from 3 percent to 27 percent. But it’s clear that opium accounts for a hell of a lot of money in Afghanistan. But the entire annual crop would cost the United States just a drop in our tinseled bucket.
     The opium crop employs from 1.6 million to 2.4 million Afghan citizens – as much as 8 percent of the country’s 28.4 million people (the population estimate is from the CIA World Fact Book.)
     We’re not making any friends trying to kill the jobs of 8 percent of a county’s people, or trying to kill the people, either.
     If we bought their crops at a better price than Hamid Karzai’s brother pays them, the Afghan farmers will be our friends.
     We need friends there.
     After President George W. Bush spent 3 years trying to “eradicate” the crop, the opium acreage increased by 61 percent and the value of the crop increased by about one-third, the Washington Post reported in 2006.
     Opium pays Afghan farmers 12 times as much as food crops. They can’t grow food in opium country as easily as they can grow opium. Growing opium may be the best thing that land can be used for. History seems to indicate that. Those two poor, devastated provinces could supply the entire world with nearly all of a drug that the world needs – legally.
     If anyone can give me one good reason why we shouldn’t buy up Afghanistan’s entire opium crop, I’d like to hear it. Sure, it’ll cause a certain amount of corruption in the U.S. agencies that buy it and burn it, but so what? Every other department of our government seems to be corrupted from top to bottom, and the country staggers along anyway. This way, we could stagger along more cheaply, making friends with people by giving them money for something we need, instead of trying to make them our friends by killing them.

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