Wednesday, May 25 , 2016, 8:52 pm | A Few Clouds 64º

Jim Hightower: Poppies Symbolize Growing U.S. Failure in Afghanistan

The West's strategy to eradicate opium production, and thus the Taliban, hasn't worked

By Jim Hightower |

Oh, to be in Afghanistan again, when the poppies are in bloom!

If you need a symbol of how America’s decade-long war is going in this faraway land, look no farther than the beautiful fields of red poppies flowering so bountifully there. Unfortunately, that bounty symbolizes a failure of an ambitious Western initiative against the Taliban forces.

Innocent little poppies are the raw material for producing opium — and the poppy crop in just one Afghanistan province supplies more than 40 percent of the world’s opium trade. In turn, that illicit flower power fuels the Taliban with tens of millions of dollars a year to buy weapons, recruit and train fighters, make bombs, bribe Afghan officials and otherwise make war.

So, the West’s strategy has included an all-out effort to eradicate poppy production in the province, both by banning the crop and by helping Afghanistan’s impoverished sharecroppers switch to such alternatives as wheat and cotton. Good theory! If it works.

It hasn’t. Many poppy growers didn’t like having their cash crop taken away from them, so they moved to a desert region of the province that’s under Taliban control and turns out to be remarkably productive poppy land. Meanwhile, those raising wheat and cotton are producing good crops, but Western development specialists forgot to focus on the key factor in convincing people to switch: profit. For example, Afghan cotton is not competitive with cheaper cotton from Pakistan. Plus, the lone cotton mill in the province often isn’t working and is notoriously slow in paying farmers.

The bottom line is that more farmers are going into the desert because, as one put it, “there aren’t any other crops where we can make enough money to fill our children’s stomachs.” Overall poppy production in Afghanistan is on the rise — up by 7 percent last year and expected to increase more this year.

Lesson: Winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people is one thing, but begin with their children’s stomachs.

But what about the hearts, minds and stomachs of the American people — especially in these times of politically imposed austerity on the middle class and the poor? Imagine how thrilled they’ll be to learn that a bipartisan majority in Washington has been running a little-known, multimillion-dollar educational initiative to lift people up. The people of Afghanistan, that is.

Well, not exactly “the People.” The program is actually only open to top Afghan officials. What instruction is our tax money providing? Get ready to upchuck: the art of PR. As part of Washington’s inexplicable war effort, an American-financed government information center has been schooling the leaders of President Hamid Karzai’s corrupt regime on how to hold news conferences.

How’s that going, you ask? Not all that well, though in fairness let’s acknowledge that Karzai’s officials have at least begun to hold a few press meetings. Previously, Afghan ministries required the media to submit any questions by fax, which was a bit of a run-around, since most ministries had no working fax machines. So, actually agreeing to meet the press is counted as a giant step forward for good government.

Now, though, the U.S. instructors have abruptly withdrawn from the information center. Apparently, they’re annoyed that Karzai and his cohort keep frustrating our efforts to help them establish a functioning government. Last year, for example, the Afghan attorney general expelled American advisers from his office. Why? Because they kept pointing out that the public credibility of his office was zilch unless he began prosecuting at least a few of the officials who are blatantly corrupt. But in Karzai-Land, cronyism trumps credibility as a virtue, so the pestering Americans had to go.

Still, while our advisers and instructors have been pulled from the center, our money has not. American financing of the PR school continues. It’s all part of our $8 billion tax dollars a month — a month! — that Washington keeps airlifting into Afghanistan, while our people’s own educational and job-training needs are slashed.

Well, at least President Barack Obama is getting us out of there in 2014, right? Maybe not. Pentagon war hawks now say they want to negotiate with Karzai to keep thousands of American forces there (as well as billions more of our tax dollars) beyond Obama’s deadline.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.