by Joe Shea
January 13, 2014
MAKING 'SENSE' OF AFGHANISTAN
BRADENTON, Fla., Jan. 13, 2014 -- In a controversial interview with former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell, the real-life hero of Mark Wahlberg’s magnificent portrayal of him in "Last Survivor" - this weekend's boffo box office hit, collecting $37.85 million - Jake Tapper of CNN called the deaths of Luttrell's comrades in an Afghanistan firefight "senseless."
"I didn't say that," Tapper shot back when Luttrell challenged the term.
"That's what you said," Luttrell quickly responded, and indeed, it was what Tapper said. "We were doing what our country told us to do," he said.
But have the vast loss of human life and countless billions of dollars really been "senseless," as Tapper implies? Or is there the possibility that a useful meaning can still be derived from this war?
That's a worthy question for our time, when doubts and skepticism about government are rampant, and when Americans' faith in Congress is at an all-time low.
Let me disclose my own biases: I have few doubts and little skepticism about our government, and even fewer about our President. As a Democrat, but first and foremost as an American who cares deeply about our country and our people, I fully support our government, his office and him.
Moreover, I joined the chorus that sang out support for our response in Afghanistan, where the Taliban actively supported the al-Qaeda training camp where killers like Mohammed Atta and his compatriots were trained to kill innocent Americans.
I supported the "surge," the deployment of 33,000 new troops into that war, and I support the President's efforts to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.
I would not do it as he is doing it, however. Instead, I would calmly order the destruction of every single Afghan poppy seed, field and processing facility, and leave Afghanistan with no apologies.
Although accurate statistics on heroin use vary greatly - Russian authorities say it has killed 1 million people since the war began - at least 100,000 people die each year around the world due to heroin use, Wikipedia says. About 80 percent of that heroin is refined form raw Afghan opium grown on some 285 square miles of poppy fields on Afghan territory.
Once banned and then sharply curtailed by the Taliban, who were later driven out of opium territory by NATO forces, the $65 billion heroin trade and Afghanistan's 3.3 million opium-related workers are essentially "protected" now by the United States military. Yet, demonstrating the industry's links to terror, a single Taliban-connected trafficker, Haji Bogcho, who is said to have controlled 20 percent of the world's heroin production, was convicted of heroin distribution and other crimes in American courts in 2012.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime also estimates that the Taliban raised between $450 and $600 million over the past four years by "taxing" heroin producers and traffickers, according to a CNN report by Christiane Amanpour. The UN says in a recent report that the Taliban has also warehoused an estimated 12,000 tons of heroin to fund itself and future acts if NATO or American moves against the poppy fields succeed.
If we wiped out the Afghan source of opium, I think, we could justifiably feel that our lossess there were not "senseless," but instead had spared many of the 100,000 lives otherwise lost each year to the corrupting and deadly influence of drug cartels and the heroin trade. To date, heroin's cost in human lives is nearly 20 times greater every year than those lost in all 10 years of the Afghan war.
Unlike the President, I see little reason to leave 10,000 American troops behind in harm's way to protect the ungrateful, corrupt and incompetent government of President Hamid Karzai. Those troops cannot save Karzai or his government from the expansion of the Taliban; only the self-engrossed warlords of the poppy fields can do that - if they free up their current preoccupation with opium production.
Perhaps if they lost those poppy fields, the Afghan warlords might realize it was foolish on their part to tacitly support the Taliban by distancing themselves from the war. So far, they have suffered very little from the American presence, and not since the beginning of the war have they been pressured to plow their poppies under.
Black Americans, many of whom gave their lives as soldiers in Afghanistan, have been the choice targets of the warlords' marketing of heroin, and more than any other segment of American society have borne the brunt of the death, destruction of families, and community violence heroin has brought to places like Harlem and Watts. Two good friends, saxophonist Spider Mittelman and blues singer "Top Jimmy" Koncek, died of heroin overdoses while I lived in Hollywood, where Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg's project handed out needles at a street corner to combat AIDS; some of those needles ened up in overdosed corpses.
The President, as the President of all of us, cannot declare that an outraged black person he must act - as a caring, thoughtful and aggressive black person would - to destroy the crops that have killed so many African-Americans (and a goodly number of others). Yet If he wiped out the heroin trade, or even pushed it elsewhere, Americans would happily forget the first missteps of Obamacare and embrace him as one of our greatest leaders ever. On that one decisive stand his entire legacy could rest fulfilled and be gratefully recalled. But onn his own, would he dare to do it?
Making the experience of lost lives and treasure less "senseless" would also raise the esteem in which America is now held by our principal European and Pacific allies. In the history books of a hundred years from now, they will say approvingly of Obama's Opium War that "he wiped out the worldwide heroin trade." If he doesn't, though, perhaps his successor will, even if he or she is more poorly positioned to do so than Obama is.
It's hard and even painful to conjure rational and believable reasons to feel our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not a senseless waste. Instead of having been "decimated," as the President said six months ago they were, al-Qaeda is resurgent, having captured Fallujah - a city my beloved cousin Michael fought bravely to save - and Ramadi, another important Iraqi city.
Although recently deposed (for now) in Syria's largest City, Aleppo, they will persist in the achievement of their "Fifth Caliphate" through their new political and military arm, the Islamic State if Iraq and Syria.
Islamic extremism has not been defeated and we will not defeat it, because it is an idea, and while an idea can be suppressed with some success, as the Saudis have shown, it is not susceptible to defeat. The world will have to deal with that fact for centuries to come.
It is of course said that the Holocaust was a "senseless" slaughter, and like the deaths of Marcus Luttrell's comrades-in-arms and thousands of other American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, it certainly was. But that memory is at least a little kinder when we recall that the Holocaust led to the establishment of Israel, a nation that offers the Jewish people a place of joy, hope, refuge and support.
If not so lofty, the destruction of the poppy fields can also be a balm for the conscience of Americans who stood by and watched without an outraged shriek as our losses and costs mounted in Afghanistan and Iraq with no sweet victory at the end. We have been like that proverbial frog that sits in cool water as it’s slowly warmed until it boils, and he dies, never knowing his error.
If we are to successfully wipe out the trafficking in heroin, we must begin with the destruction of Afghanistan’s poppy fields. The poppy is the source of opium, which is refined into heroin. Ironically, in the famous World War I poem, "In Flanders' Fields," those fields are a place where poppies bloom “amid the crosses, row on row;" the difference is that those crosses were in Belgium 100 years ago, and ours are here in America, now, where the war against heroin must be won.
In fact, the toll of heroin here is so great that Vermont's Gov. Peter Shumlin this week devoted his entire State of the State address to the threat it contains. "Scourge of Heroin in Vermont Mirrors National Epidemic, ABC's website said in a headline:
“In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us,” he said. The governor argued that the state needs to change its emphasis from policing to treating heroin abuse like a disease that requires treatment.
In this fight, there can at last be recognition that Luttrell’s losses, and ours, will have made "sense." But history will be most unkind to Obama if the realization that we lost an historic opportunity to cure one of mankind's greatest plagues was lost in the course of ending a wasteful war.
The path of revenge leads to a sour end, and revenge was our deepest motive after Sept. 11. As nearly 11 years of war end with more war in sight - as it is, I assure you - revenge will not help us heal our hearts and heal our critically wounded economy. Killing heroin would help do that, and the cost would be small compared to our great expense to date.
Please encourage President Obama to order our military forces in Afghanistan to wipe out the opium trade in Afghanistan before we leave.
Joe Shea is founder and Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter, thw world's first online daily newspaper. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org