by James Thompson
Afghanistan may be hard to find on a map, but each day its opium poppies provide the vast majority of heroin to Europe and the world. While the United States draws its supply largely from Mexico, our imperial endeavors implicate us deeply in the Afghan heroin trade.
Without the economic “stability” and payoffs to corrupt governments and warlords that opium poppy farming supplies, neither the Taliban, nor Raytheon, nor Boeing, nor the U.S. sponsored Karzai government would have been able to operate the giant money laundering business that Afghanistan has been for the last twenty years.
The soaring profit from the drug trades, arms production, and the salaries of a 300,000-strong “ghost army” are made on the backs of everyday Afghans, but also everyday U.S. citizens struggling with the $2 trillion cost of the war. Every president since Bush II, and every one of their Vice Presidents, including Joe Biden, was aware of this through public media wire reports and U.S. and international agency investigations.
As the world’s foremost illicit supplier of drugs – with hectares in production of poppy equal to at least a third of all coca hectares in the Americas – Afghanistan was an ideal location for the imperial money laundering scheme which benefited all sides of the war racketeering business.
Both the Taliban and the “legitimate” colonial government used a system of cash payments funneled inequitably upward through redirected soldier salaries to warlords, and the profits from the drug trade, to maintain an uneasy stalemate which saw record opiate production and global addiction rates between 2001 and 2020.
Shareholders in private mercenary firms (which had the majority of the non-Afghan soldiers on the ground), aerospace companies (drone and bomb manufacturers like Lockheed and Raytheon), and the ubiquitous small arms and vehicle manufacturers (General Dynamics) joined Taliban and Afghani government funded warlords in creating the most inequitable upward redistribution of wealth in the history of both our nations.
U.S. working people and Afghan laborers – including the men, women, and children that are forced under gunpoint to meet warlord and village poppy quotas – pay the full price for this in taxes, and in blood.
Few people have analyzed the correlation between the beginning of the U.S. war against the Taliban in 2001, when they were so weak as to offer Osama bin Laden and most of their Afghani territory as prizes to the infidel empire, and their parallel near “eradication” of poppy production.
The Taliban mujahideen did what no other government in global history has done, except for the eradication of quaalude production in the 1980s. It almost completely eliminated a source material for a globally addictive drug.
If this were not a testament to the power of the Taliban and the existential relationship between opium, empire, and fundamentalist Islamic anticolonialism, what came after surely was. Immediately after 9/11 a U.S. foreign office narcotics director, William Bach, reported to the House of Representatives that the Taliban removal of “haram” (forbidden items or acts under orthodox Islamic law) poppy was actually a ruse to increase opium prices, and that warlords had stockpiled non-degradable opium to hedge the market.
The continued influx of heroin to the global market, and the relative lack in price hikes, suggested this was true. The Taliban, it turns out, were master capitalists and market manipulators. Bush II and his war dog corporate cronies wanted in on the action, and they got it. He quickly turned down the generous Taliban deal, turned a blind eye to record poppy production and increased processing, and opened the floodgates for war profiteering on all sides.
Another fact little discussed is that the U.S. war did not end because of the largesse of corporate sponsored leaders like Joe Biden, or out of any concern for the “failure” of “nation building.” Rather, domestic movement pressure from the progressive left on Democratic platforming at the state and national level has exposed the costliness of global imperialism, while at home, civilization is in decline.
The United States is one of three nations (with Hungary and Brazil) of 163 with a decline in living standards over the last ten years, according to the Social Progress Index. A huge part of this decline is manifest in the very addiction to Afghan and Mexican heroin in the United States, and the failure of privatized medicine and corporate “democracy” to mitigate the conditions giving rise to drug use.
One thing is certain, the drugs will flow despite the Taliban’s post U.S.-exit claims to make Afghanistan free of poppy farming. As we know from our experience with religious fundamentalism at home, money is never “haram.”
So while the U.S. “war” with Afghanistan is technically over, the war of capital against the people in both our countries rages on.
As Orwell wrote in 1984 “Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” One could also write that we were always addicted to Eastasia, and addicted to the idea of it as a terrible opposite to our “Western Civilization.” It turns out Eastasia/Afghanistan is not the opposite, but the exemplar of our kleptocratic corporate global empire. And it remains the source of the dangerous medicine that global citizens use to treat the sadness which comes from living with imperialism.
To riff on a famous Marxist dictum, it might be said that opiates are the religion of a people struggling with empire.
The author dedicates this piece to fellow addicts in Afghanistan and the United States.
For the Iguana, most of this information is from the wire and easily obtained. If you want to fact check my report on U.S. standards decline, it is here:
The report I mention to the House is from William Bach, Director, Office of Asia, Africa, Europe, NIS Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Testimony Before the Committee on Government Reform U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, Washington, DC, October 3, 2001.