This week, President Obama declared that all US troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. This, might have been a hollow threat. But, whatever the end date the outcome is clear. The US is retreating in a similar vein to America’s experience in Vietnam.
And this is a simple recognition that the U.S. is ‘not welcome’ in Afghanistan any more.
When historians look back this will be ‘the’ turning point in American imperialism. We now have Afghanistan handed over to a bunch of criminals. And these criminals have a singular mission of producing all the opium and heroin the world (including the U.S.) needs. Is the U.S leaving Afghanistan in a better state than they found it 13 years ago?
In 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, the total production of Opium in Afghanistan was under 1 ton (for the whole year). Last year by contrast, Afghanistan produced a record 5500 tons of Heroin. This is equal to enough poppy fields to produce 55,000 tons of opium.
Today in America there are roughly 700,000 Heroin addicts. And last year 16,800 Americans died of Heroin overdose.
You don’t have to look far to appreciate the significance of this.
America has been struggling with the spoils of this war ever since 2001. Year after year, our children fall prey to the siren that is heroin. States all across the country are reporting skyrocketing rates of intoxication, overdoses and death.
The social impact is enormous. Lives are destroyed everywhere. There are over 38,000 drug overdose deaths per year in the United States, more than 50 percent of which are opioid-related. And we are not the only ones experiencing tragedy; the Europeans are suffering, as well.
If the death of 3000 Americans on 9/11 justified the ‘invasion’ of Afghanistan, are these deaths from Heroin not somehow casualties of this invasion too? Does anyone care or even talk about it?
According to a recent UN report, cultivation of poppy across the war-torn nation rose 36 per cent in 2013, up by almost a half since 2012. “This has never been witnessed before in the history of Afghanistan,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the outgoing leader of the Afghanistan office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which produced the report.
There are many who believe that Afghan Heroin is not a serious issue in the U.S. (and that in fact the majority of U.S. drugs comes from Latin America). But, it is important to note that the price of drugs is set globally. And when there is a massive over supply of a specific drug in the global market, the global price drops. Packets of Heroin sold in New York for under $4 a hit. This is a record low price, and has made the drug affordable. Moreover, the reduced demand for Latin drug exports to Europe (because of Afghan supply) has enabled, even forced Latin production into the U.S. There is also without doubt, significant Afghan Origin Heroin in the U.S., especially on the east coast.
The Opioid drug trade is now a multi-billion dollars global ‘industry’ that was basically dead in 2001. Perhaps that was the plan all along. The IMF reported that in the late 1990s, money laundering accounted for 2-5% of the world’s GDP, and that a large percentage of the 590 billion to 1.5 trillion dollars in annual money laundering is “directly linked to the trade in narcotics.” This lucrative trade in narcotics produces profits which are “laundered in the numerous offshore banking havens in Switzerland, Luxembourg, the British Channel Islands, the Cayman Islands and some 50 other locations around the globe.” These offshore havens “are controlled by major Western banks and financial institutions” which “have a vested interest in maintaining and sustaining the drug trade.”
The ugly reality is the West will be counting the true cost of the war for years to come, no longer in blood and treasure but in an epidemic of heroin addiction driven by an explosion of Afghan opium production.
Besides the huge impact of Afghan drugs in the U.S. there are other repercussions to consider.
Isn’t it ironic that the Mullahs in Iran (America’s arch enemies) have better relations with the Afghans then the U.S. does? This is after the U.S. has literally spent almost a Trillion dollars over 13 years in Afghanistan.
Iran’s strategy in Afghanistan is reminiscent of its maneuvering in Iraq, where it helped fuel the insurgency and persuaded Iraqi politicians not to yield on allowing the Americans a small military presence beyond 2011.
An Afghan lawmaker, Fauzia Kofi, said Iran has strengthened its influence over Afghan institutions in the past year. Key among those is parliament, which voted on the bilateral agreement with Washington. “They have strong networks and a lot of money,” Kofi said in an interview. “They go to different parliamentarians and tell them what to do and what not to do. They have become more active to try to keep this [U.S. – Afghan] partnership from happening.”
Playing a greater role in Afghanistan seems a clear goal for Iran. The two states share a border that is more than 560 miles long, and senior Iranian officials have participated in every major international meeting on Afghanistan that they have been eligible to attend.
Iran pledged $540 million in assistance at the first Tokyo conference on Afghanistan in 2002, the largest commitment made by any non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nation. And most of this assistance, was actually provided, unlike others at the conference.
Since Afghanistan, Iran (and also neighboring Tajikistan) share a common cultural (and historic) heritage it is inevitable that in the long-run Iran will become a far more important factor in the future of Afghanistan – and NOT the U.S. Americans have been amazingly ineffective at using its military or financial might to ‘buy or force’ their way into an enduring presence in Afghanistan.
This simple reality means that the U.S. is retreating with only one option left at playing a serious strategic role in the area. And that option is to influence the region by proxy via another state – Iran.
After 30 years of ‘clear’ acrimony with Iran, improved relations with Iran seems to be America’s only option in the region. America has, in effect, elevated Iran’s Mullahs through its actions in Afghanistan, and in turn only diminished itself in the region.
Interestingly, the drug problem that is afflicting the West has also been a major issue in Iran. Despite close relations between Iran and Afghanistan, Afghan drug production has had a devastating impact on Iran too. According to the U.N., Iran has over 6 million infrequent Opium users, with roughly 2 million Opioid addicts. But once again, the Mullahs in Iran have turned this problem into an opportunity and have become re-exporters of roughly 70% of Afghanistan drug production. Much of the ‘stuff’ on the streets in the West is shipped from Iran – not Afghanistan.
Whether you like the Mullahs in Tehran, or (like me) you don’t. You have to hand it to them, they have played a beautiful hand…. or is it that America has played its strong hand badly? Is it that the Mullahs are smart or are Americans stupid? Or is someone else advising the Mullahs what to do. I don’t know.
One thing’s for sure, America is not leaving Afghanistan (and never left Iraq) smelling like a rose