Here We Go Again

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns is making some very interesting claims:

NATO has intercepted Iranian weapons shipments to Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, providing evidence Iran is violating international law to aid a group it once considered a bitter enemy, a senior U.S. diplomat said Wednesday.

“There’s irrefutable evidence the Iranians are now doing this,” Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said on CNN. “It’s certainly coming from the government of Iran. It’s coming from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps command, which is a basic unit of the Iranian government.”

I’ve written a lot about Afghanistan at Reload, and I just want to quickly explain why we should be very skeptical of what Burns is saying. This post will be short on links because I’m on my lunch break, and I don’t have time to look up everything I’ve cited in the past on this.

Long story short, Afghanistan, as we all know, is the major opium producing country in the world – by far. The heroin that’s produced in hidden labs throughout Afghanistan is smuggled out in several different directions, most of which ends up in Europe, but a growing percentage stays in the countries along the smuggling routes (India, Pakistan, Russia, and Iran). Iran actually has one of the worst heroin problems in the world, and this is very clearly something that the theocratic Iranian leadership is not happy about.

The attempts by NATO forces and the Karzai government to destroy the opium production from within Afghanistan is beyond futile. The industry is roughly one half of the entire country’s GDP. You can’t just wipe that out militarily. Even with the unanimous support from outside the country to eliminate the trade, drug smugglers still dominate large areas of Afghanistan – especially in the south. But because the trade is still illegal, and coalition forces still have a mandate to assist the Karzai government in destroying the opium fields, the Taliban have been able to set up a protection racket, where they can collect ‘fees’ from the drug smugglers in exchange for making sure that their fields are spared when the eradication teams come through.

The Taliban doesn’t get paid in stacks of bills, though. Instead, they get paid in something that’s more valuable to them – weapons that they can use to fight the coalition forces. That’s where the Iranians come in. Seeing the massive increase in drug smuggling coming across the Iran-Afghanistan border, the Iranian government began to more heavily patrol the area. The intention was never to arm the Taliban, but that was the inevitable result. The Iranian government is notoriously unable to enforce its own strict laws, and high-ranking Iranian officials were bound to find ways to get in on the massive profits to be made by helping all that heroin make its way to London. This is why Iranian arms have ended up in the arms of the Taliban.

Obviously, these accusations aren’t coming out of nowhere. We’ve got a fleet of warships off the southern Iranian coast and we continue to have dimwitted Congressmen making severe threats against the regime. There’s a strong movement among a small subset of Americans to start a war with Iran, a move that would end in disaster. Those of us who still have our common sense intact need to keep dealing with the facts.

Comments

  1. 1

    ArtFart spews:

    Hmmmm….how well would corn grow in areas where poppies flourish?

    Here’s my lunchtime brain fart:

    Send Archer Daniels Midland in there and let them put everybody to work. The promotion of ethanol as fuel will soon have humble maize bringing in market prices on a par with opiates.

    Of course, there would be a few problems. The people in Afghanistan might not take readily to the idea. The parties sucking off the teat of the drug trade definitely wouldn’t like it.

    The big deal, though, is that it would pit the interests if the agribusiness fat cats against those of the oil business fat cats. Now, that could get really interesting.

  2. 2

    spews:

    Hmmmm….how well would corn grow in areas where poppies flourish?

    I doubt you could make the kind of money made by the opium farmers. And I don’t think you can grow corn in that terrain very easily, but I’m not totally sure…

    One solution is to license the opium farming. It won’t solve the smuggling problem, but it will keep the Taliban from being able to arm themselves.

  3. 3

    Right Stuff spews:

    The intention was never to arm the Taliban, but that was the inevitable result. The Iranian government is notoriously unable to enforce its own strict laws, and high-ranking Iranian officials were bound to find ways to get in on the massive profits to be made by helping all that heroin make its way to London

    Those poor helpless Iranian theocratic nutjobs. Can’t control their military from arming the taliban…
    Oh well, we should just let it happen. After all they don’t really intend to arm them…Nor do they intend to make a nuclear weapon. it’s all for energy purposes….nevermind that they live on a lake of oil…….Poor mis-understood Iranians….

  4. 4

    Right Stuff spews:

    The industry is roughly one half of the entire country’s GDP. You can’t just wipe that out militarily. Even with the unanimous support from outside the country to eliminate the trade, drug smugglers still dominate large areas of Afghanistan

    uhmmm, where is the UN? why, they can solve anything….
    I wouldn’t be suprised if the UN had it’s hands in the opium trade. Call it the “dope for food” program..
    Another example of how useless the UN really is…
    Oh and DARFUR….UN fails again.

  5. 5

    spews:

    uhmmm, where is the UN? why, they can solve anything….
    I wouldn’t be suprised if the UN had it’s hands in the opium trade. Call it the “dope for food” program..
    Another example of how useless the UN really is…
    Oh and DARFUR….UN fails again.

    It’s not an indictment of the UN specifically, although the UN has its head way up its own ass when it comes to drug control. The Bush Administration (and the UK government) are both stuck with the same affliction.

  6. 6

    ArtFart spews:

    4 Uhhhh…well, let’s see. We’ve had our forces there for a few years, and the problem just keeps getting worse. Seems we’re in no position to throw any rocks.

  7. 7

    Tuor spews:

    @6

    Recall the article I copied about what the Army is doing with the IRR? Now this. I really don’t think I’m being overly paranoid. The US has been trying to justify attacking Iran for some time. The closer we get to the next presidential election, the louder this drumbeat is going to get, IMO.

  8. 8

    spews:

    @7
    I agree, although it’s not the US so much as it is a radical subset of the US. The Bush Administration is not even entirely on the warmongers side. Rice is not, but Cheney certainly is. This misinformation campaign (thank you brain dead press!) is just part of the strategy to win that internal battle.

  9. 9

    Tuor spews:

    When the “radical subset” includes the President and Vice-president, then the “subset” part becomes largely immaterial.

  10. 10

    spews:

    When the “radical subset” includes the President and Vice-president, then the “subset” part becomes largely immaterial.

    I agree. Although word is that Bush is listening to Rice rather than Cheney. There’s still hope (not much, but a little).

  11. 11

    ArtFart spews:

    There seems to be scant if any evidence that Kinda Sleazy tells her boss anything other than what she knows he wants to hear.

  12. 12

    RightEqualsStupid spews:

    Great ANOTHER war that George Bush can start by using OTHER PEOPLE’S kids to do the fighting. NOT ONE FUCKING BUSH relative is in combat – there are 38 of prime fighting age. Why not any of them? Or are these trumped up wars not THAT important?

  13. 13

    spews:

    The Afghan mess has so many wrinkles one would think it was an old story. Two things about it puzzle me.

    1. Opium is very clearly prohibited by the Quran. Hypocrisy aside, given the self righteousness of the Islamic governments, how is it that Iran, Saudi Arabia,, Pakistan don’t independently rail against this?

    2. We hear very little about opium/heroin abuse in the media these days. Is this still a major US drug or have the heroin dealers found other venues?

    The bottom line message in all this is not “just” the awesome failure of the Bushistas to function as world leaders but the strange vacuum of leadership that still exists. Afghansitan is hardly only a US problem. Where are other countries with real interests in this issue?

    a. Is China free of opium?
    b. It is difficult to imagine a practice more odious to the Iranian Mullahs than drug dealing, are they uncocnerned?
    c. Russia USED to be involved .. remember the Moscow Olympics?

  14. 14

    spews:

    1. Opium is very clearly prohibited by the Quran. Hypocrisy aside, given the self righteousness of the Islamic governments, how is it that Iran, Saudi Arabia,, Pakistan don’t independently rail against this?

    They do rail against it.

    2. We hear very little about opium/heroin abuse in the media these days. Is this still a major US drug or have the heroin dealers found other venues?

    Heroin abuse is still a problem in the U.S. A few days ago, the “cheese” problem in Dallas got some headlines. The media doesn’t exactly do a great job in handling these issues.

    Steve, you’re exactly right that the Bush Administration is not the only problem here. In fact, in the past I’ve argued that the Blair government deserves more blame for the opium problems in Afghanistan as anyone.

  15. 15

    spews:

    Islamic responsibility.

    It is not as if the Muslim countries are powerless and if they are speaking against poppy trade, it certainly is rather quietly.

    My understanding is that when the Taliban rules, they did shut down on this. Given the miasma that has replaced our news, I wonder if we could fnd out if that story was correct?

    As for today, the Islamic worlkd is anythng BUT powerless. They have the power to deal with this sissue if they want to do so.

    Hopefully, President Barak/Clinton/Edwrichson et al. will put some real effort and talent behind building some sort of alliances to replace the cacophony and mistrust of the Bush era.

    In the Islamic world there is some hope, though not much. The Indonesian government is only recently democratic but does seems sincerely committed to moderation. The problem is that modern Islam does not have a credible liberal leadership power center and, as long as the Saudi’s rule Mecca and oil,Wahabi-ism and Arab centric racism will be a problme for Islam.

    If I may branch ot, IMHO, the great challenge for us in the Middle east is exactly waht the Neov=cons proposed … the Muslim and esp. the Arab world .. need a credible alternative to the current patter of government by corrupt dictators vs. Iranian Shia.

    Put yourself in the sandals of a young college grad in Egypt. What do you have to look forward to? While China and India are burning Islamic country’s oil in a mad rush to join the first world, the Saudi family walks around in costumes from the 19th century and is busy buying London and Texas. You have no form of democracy, no reason to trust your own government or the religous leaders who rule in Mecca and Medina.

    The only visible alternative is the Irani Shiite government. This looks pretty good to our young person in Cairo, esp. when it talks disdainfully of overrdoing the gold robed Saudi cult.

    I would really like to hear THIS subject debated in the current campaign.

  16. 16

    spews:

    Islamic responsibility.

    Oh dear, here we go again.

    It is not as if the Muslim countries are powerless and if they are speaking against poppy trade, it certainly is rather quietly.

    Steve, as someone who follows the opium issue as closely as anyone, let me be perfectly clear. That statement could not be more wrong. The Pakistani and Iranian governments are two of the loudest voices when it comes to complaining about the opium trade. Arabian countries, along with Indonesia and Malaysia, have some of the strictest laws concerning opium in the world.

    My understanding is that when the Taliban rules, they did shut down on this. Given the miasma that has replaced our news, I wonder if we could fnd out if that story was correct?

    The Taliban was under a lot of pressure from their main supporters (Pakistan, the Saudis) to shut down the opium farming. They portrayed the image to the outside world that they were doing so, but in reality, they just shut down the opium production by their political rivals while ignoring the opium production in the southern regions that were friendly to the regime. This is not because they supported opium farming (they certainly didn’t), it was because they have no ability to stop it.

    As for today, the Islamic worlkd is anythng BUT powerless. They have the power to deal with this sissue if they want to do so.

    No they don’t. As long as there is a gigantic black market of heroin in the western world, the farmers of Afghanistan will continue to profit by supplying it and no one in the region can do a thing to stop it. You’re making the same mistake that people make when looking at Mexico and its drug war or with Colombia. These nations are powerless to do anything about the drug production occurring within its borders.

    Hopefully, President Barak/Clinton/Edwrichson et al. will put some real effort and talent behind building some sort of alliances to replace the cacophony and mistrust of the Bush era.

    If they think that the opium farming can be wiped out by just forcing the Afghans to “get serious”, they will fail miserably. The problem is not one of a lack of will on the Afghan side, it’s a lack of seriousness in dealing with heroin here at home.

    In the Islamic world there is some hope, though not much. The Indonesian government is only recently democratic but does seems sincerely committed to moderation.

    The Indonesian government has a horrendous record when it comes to dealing with the opium issue and with drug policy in general.

    The problem is that modern Islam does not have a credible liberal leadership power center and, as long as the Saudi’s rule Mecca and oil,Wahabi-ism and Arab centric racism will be a problme for Islam.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with opium in any way. The Saudi government is one of the strictest in the world when it comes to heroin and other drugs.

    If I may branch ot, IMHO, the great challenge for us in the Middle east is exactly waht the Neov=cons proposed … the Muslim and esp. the Arab world .. need a credible alternative to the current patter of government by corrupt dictators vs. Iranian Shia.

    Gee, you think so? Real insightful, Steve. Color me impressed.

    Put yourself in the sandals of a young college grad in Egypt. What do you have to look forward to?

    The day when idiots in the United States don’t stereotype them as sandal-wearing primitives.

    While China and India are burning Islamic country’s oil in a mad rush to join the first world, the Saudi family walks around in costumes from the 19th century and is busy buying London and Texas. You have no form of democracy, no reason to trust your own government or the religous leaders who rule in Mecca and Medina.

    What does this have to do with opium again?

    The only visible alternative is the Irani Shiite government. This looks pretty good to our young person in Cairo, esp. when it talks disdainfully of overrdoing the gold robed Saudi cult.

    As someone who was walking along the campus of the American University in Cairo last month, allow me to laugh my ass off at that. The young people who graduate from that school are well aware that the world extends beyond the Middle East. They don’t feel trapped between the Saudis and the Iranians.

    I would really like to hear THIS subject debated in the current campaign.

    What subject? You covered like 10 different things there.

  17. 17

    spews:

    Lee

    I would like to hear more about your trip to Egypt. I have a number of Egyptian friends and what they tell me is truly scary.

    As for the opium issue, there is a huge difference between the intolerance of opium within SA or Pakistan and their being willing to enforce Sharia to ban its growing in Afghanistan. You and I actually agree here on the motivation of the people in the Afghanistan. Where we may differ is n the willingness and ability of Islamic countries
    to do something about the problem.

    My point here was that, in this issue, the world would be much better off if Islamic leadership would work to resolve than issue than if the US, China, Europe or Russia try to muscle the issue.

    I am BTW, VERY interested nyour comments about the Taliban. I have never understood the admixture of strict Islam and opium. Assuming you are correct, how did they justify this under Shariya?

    BTW, I did point out that I was making a segue when I referred to the issue of governance in Islamic countries I do feel that this issue is relevant to Afghanistan because
    the lack of good, stable governments at home makes it much harder for any Islamic country within the Umma to police a country outside their own.

    Returning to the campaign. I suspect we would agree on this issue being important: Islamic reform is essential to world peace. Bush has done great harm to that process. The next President will need new policies in that world if she or he is to be effective. As of now, however, we have heard almost no discussion about possible US policies on any of the following:

    Kashmir
    Support for Democratic Development in Indonesia, Jordan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.
    Economic and political reform in North Africa and Syria.
    political reform in Saudi Arabia
    Islamic fundamentalism in Europe and the US.

    BTW, given your interest in this subject, you might want to put your 3 cents into the debate between Darryl and I on the Iranian confrontation. Versions fo the debate are n both of our blogs.

    Nice talking with you! Hope we can do more at DL!

    SeattleJew

  18. 18

    spews:

    I would like to hear more about your trip to Egypt. I have a number of Egyptian friends and what they tell me is truly scary.

    It was an amazing time. I loved it. Having a friend to stay with was a huge bonus. It made everything a lot easier.

    As for the opium issue, there is a huge difference between the intolerance of opium within SA or Pakistan and their being willing to enforce Sharia to ban its growing in Afghanistan.

    Well, yes, the former is easy and the latter is impossible.

    You and I actually agree here on the motivation of the people in the Afghanistan. Where we may differ is n the willingness and ability of Islamic countries
    to do something about the problem.

    Yes, and let me very clear once again. You’re completely wrong if you believe that there’s a lack of willingness among countries like Pakistan and Iran to do something about the opium problem.

    My point here was that, in this issue, the world would be much better off if Islamic leadership would work to resolve than issue than if the US, China, Europe or Russia try to muscle the issue.

    And again, I’m saying (and I’m trying to be as polite as possible) that as someone who studies this issue very closely, that statement is completely wrong. I don’t know how to say this any more simply, but there’s absolutely nothing that the governments of the region can do to stop this problem. It’s a problem that can only be solved in the wealthier countries where the demand for those drugs exists (UK, Germany, US, etc.). This is not a supply-driven problem. It’s a demand-driven one.

    I am BTW, VERY interested nyour comments about the Taliban. I have never understood the admixture of strict Islam and opium. Assuming you are correct, how did they justify this under Shariya?

    Again, you’re confusing an inability to control something with an implicit support for it. It’s no different than how Lou Dobbs (and others) accuse the Mexican government of complicity in both the massive drug commerce coming through that country (and the number of illegal immigrants who flee to the U.S. to escape the violence).

    Returning to the campaign. I suspect we would agree on this issue being important: Islamic reform is essential to world peace.

    I agree with that statement, but where we likely disagree is that I believe that the more powerful countries of the world have a much bigger role to play in that than the countries where radical Islam has become a problem. Believing that we can fix the problems like what’s happening in Gaza or with Hizbullah by simply being more stern and authoritarian with the Middle East and just trying to force them to behave is a trap that we fall into.

  19. 19

    spews:

    Lee,

    Where we disagree seems to be on what the US cand and can not do. I think we are a very limited imperial power. While George Bush was/is a fuck up, even the most competent of presidents would find direct US action of any sort limited.

    It is far more sensible to work in a Kissinger-Bismark mode to build alliances that serve our ends. In re the islamic states , it seems clear that the ONLY solution ot radical Islam must come from within Islam itself. We need to support and encourage the growth of the few rational Islamic states. i AGREE THIS IS HARD TO DO. tHERE ARE VERY FEW HISTORIC EXAMPLES OF ANY IMPERIAL POWER SUCCEEDING IN DOING SUCH A THING.

    As for the Taliban, I am skeptical of your comments. Can you show me data on their actions in re opium? My impression is that they suported poppy culture.

    Hope to hear more abiut Egypt. I am jealous. I have always wanted to visit there and am fascinated by ancient Egypt.

  20. 20

    spews:

    This is me still, don’t feel like signing in…

    Where we disagree seems to be on what the US cand and can not do. I think we are a very limited imperial power. While George Bush was/is a fuck up, even the most competent of presidents would find direct US action of any sort limited.

    It depends on the kinds of actions, but yes, I do tend to agree with you on this. We have an overriding belief that people in the Middle East and the greater Muslim world can’t be trusted to run their own affairs.

    It is far more sensible to work in a Kissinger-Bismark mode to build alliances that serve our ends. In re the islamic states , it seems clear that the ONLY solution ot radical Islam must come from within Islam itself.

    I agree with this somewhat, but I believe that we have a lot of power to influence the amount of radical Islam by being more concerned with human rights than oil profits when we deal with the region. Too often, we serve our ends by allowing for human rights abuses to occur, and that’s the cause of Islamic radicalism. From what you’ve said in the past, it would appear that you’d agree with that as well.

    i AGREE THIS IS HARD TO DO. tHERE ARE VERY FEW HISTORIC EXAMPLES OF ANY IMPERIAL POWER SUCCEEDING IN DOING SUCH A THING.

    Exactly, I don’t think an imperial power can do it because it’s imperialist ends will also lead to restrictions on the native’s freedoms. This isn’t just true for the Middle East, it’s been true anywhere in the world, from America to the far east.

    Look at Turkey. Turkey became a democracy because they quickly overthrew the imperialist government after WWI and decided their own affairs under Ataturk. They certainly committed human rights abuses (as did another country that overthrew in imperialism in the late 18th century), but established a system that grew to be secular and fair.

    As for the Taliban, I am skeptical of your comments. Can you show me data on their actions in re opium? My impression is that they suported poppy culture.

    Nope. Completely incorrect.

    In the 2000/2001 cultivating period, the Taliban used violent reprisals and severe punishment to cause opium production to plummet from 3,276 mt in 2000 to only 185 mt in 2001 – a fall of a staggering 94 percent. In areas under its control, the Taliban was uncompromisingly tough, allowing it to complete, according to the London-based Independent newspaper “one of the quickest and most successful drug elimination programmes in history”.

    Of course, this was the biggest reason why America was so welcomed when the Taliban was removed at the end of 2001.

  21. 21

    spews:

    Lee,

    I am thrilled that we are on the same plain. Can I buy you a beer?

    I am going to cross post the comments about the Taliban at SJ. This is pretty much what I had thought until recenlty when I read otherwise … perhaps due to the maisma of our current media.

    Tx again.

    SeattleJew