News & Politics

Failure Squared: War on Drugs Meets the War on Terror

Something to celebrate?

U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke is congratulating himself for ending the Bush administration's expensive and ineffective opium poppy eradication program. Trouble is, he's decided to replace eradication with interdiction.

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He's only switching to the same failed strategy that the rest of the drug war is based on. Interdiction doesn't stop the billion dollar drug trade right here in the U.S., where the government actually controls all the territory. What makes Holbrooke think that interdiction will work in Afghanistan when the coalition doesn't even have a presence in, let alone control of, most of the territory.

Here's how Holbrooke described a successful interdiction at a press briefing yesterday:

On this trip, we saw the first indications that it might work. And those indications came from the British and American forces in Helmand, where they targeted interdiction and made interdiction their goal and they went after drug dealers. And using modern technologies, they located what they called drug bazaars, marketplaces which sold drug paraphernalia, precursor chemicals, laboratory equipment, poppy seeds and there were vast amounts of opium, nice fluffy poppy, to buy and sell, and they destroyed them. [The Cable]

He says they used "modern technology" to find drug bazaars. Does he really mean drone strikes on drug markets? If so, that's going to work until the narcos give up on their farmer's markets and go underground like normal traffickers. Of course, that will be an impetus for defense contractors and private security firms to sell the U.S. another costly round of "modern technology" to detect slightly better-hidden dope.

And how long before a drone or an satellite image analyst mistakes a real farmer's market for a drug market?

Lindsay Beyerstein a New York writer blogging at Majikthise.