The rabbi was in his study deep in thought, when in rushed Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Thomas Schweich, Senior Coordinator for Rule of Law and Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan, and Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State. It was clear that they had been having a heated argument that only the learned rabbi could resolve.(Note to Afghans: to change cultural context, replace learned rabbi with Mullah Nassruddin. Christians -- not sure, but you could try Father Ted or a character from Garrison Keillor.)
"Rabbi, goodness gracious, this mission creeper wants to drag our warfighters into police work!," burst out Rumsfeld. "First we must win the war on terror, even if it means arming, funding, and protecting drug traffickers! Then let others win the war on drugs! Mercy me!"
The rabbi thoughtfully scratched his beard. "You're wrong," he said.
"Of course he's wrong, rabbi," yelled Schweich. "Drugs are funding the Taliban and al-Qaida! Not only that -- our supposed allies in the Afghan government are protecting traffickers! The poor Tajiks and Uzbeks and Hazaras have all stopped growing poppy and only the greedy rich Pashtuns still want more! Even the UN Agency that I fund says so! The only answer is aerial spraying!"
The rabbi studied the commentaries in a holy book and seemed lost in contemplation. "You're wrong," he said.
"But rabbi," pleaded Condi Rice, "Both of these political appointees from different factions of the Republican Party have the ear of the President! So what if neither of them knows anything about Afghanistan or the economics of the drug industry or counter-insurgency? They can't both be wrong!"
The rabbi stared at the ceiling, as if seeking the counsel of a Higher Father. Finally he spoke: "You're wrong too."
If only I were exaggerating....
Rumsfeld armed and empowered anybody who would or could fight the Taliban and resisted any attempt to curb them, since he didn't want any trouble while we saved our forces for success in Iraq (and then needed more to make it even more successful!). The U.S. doesn't do nation building, it does regime destroying. The Bush administration didn't even allocate any new money for reconstruction the first year! They wanted other countries to clean up Afghanistan after we had destroyed al-Qaida and Taliban. Then -- next!
Schweich (and his predecessor, Bobby Charles) revolted against this policy. Drugs, they rightly argued, were funding the insurgency and government corruption. The war on drugs is part of the war on terror. We have to do both at the same time! Spray the fields and arrest the power-holders! If anyone opposes us, arrest them too!
But nobody ever explained how to win over the farmers while destroying their crops before they had secure alternatives. (Schweich denies he was doing this, which shows how little he understands peasant villages in general, let alone Afghanistan.) Nobody every explained how to fight the Taliban and build security in alliance with a government based on the power of drug-trafficking militia commanders funded and armed by the U.S. while arresting these same people. Consequently the U.S. pursued a bad counter-insurgency strategy and a bad pro-insurgency strategy simultaneously, which Schweich confirms in his account of the total absence of an inter-agency process for implementation of counter-narcotics . It's difficult to say if the government as described by Schweich was not implementing a strategy or implementing no strategy.
The answer is, THINK!!! What are we trying to accomplish, where, with whom, and with what resources? Then develop a strategy for the specific situation instead of taking dogmatic unexamined concepts like "war on terror" and "war on drugs" and trying to smash them together.
The goal is political -- to help our Afghan allies win the battle for legitimacy. The political, military, and economic strategies (including counter-narcotics, which cuts across them) have to be integrated for that end. Yes, integrate counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, development, and lots of other types of operations by disaggregating them into lines of policy and figuring out priorities and relationships: strengthen counter-insurgency AND counter-narcotics by massive aid to increase the productivity and connectivity to markets of rural communities without attacking their livelihoods before the aid comes to fruition; strengthen legitimacy and governance with massive aid to the police and justice system (refused by Rumsfeld to President Karzai's face) while offering a package of cooptation or marginalization for leaders formerly or presently involved in trafficking; use military force sparingly but only against the highest part of the value chain (heroin labs, major trafficking operations); and attack the sources of the drug industry outside of Afghanistan by programs against the export of precursors to the country and money laundering.
I know that was an excessively dense paragraph. For an excessively lengthy exposition of the same thing, see the report I wrote with Jake Sherman.
In conclusion, a warning from Mullah Nasruddin about policy recommendations:
At a gathering where Mullah Nasruddin was present, people were discussing the merits of youth and old age. They had all agreed that, a man's strength decreases as years go by. Mullah Nasruddin dissented.
- I don't agree with you gentlemen, he said. In my old age I have the same strength as I had in the prime of my youth.
- How do you mean, Mullah Nasruddin? asked somebody. Explain yourself.
- In my courtyard, explained Mullah Nasruddin, there is a massive stone. In my youth I used to try and lift it. I never succeeded. Neither can I lift it now.
Only God knows the whole truth.