The subhed, which is a fair summation of the argument that the piece builds up to:
The best way to deprive the Taliban of drug profits? The United States should buy Afghanistan’s poppy crop instead of trying to eradicate it.
I actually used to think that this would be the best way to control the drug crop in South America, and cut off the source of funding for rebels.
The problem as I could see it was that, well, even if Hitch frames this as a pragmatic realpolitikical position (get off the high horse and fight smarter, not more righteously), it’s also kind of an overly hopeful vision of benevolent (and, invariably, vague and bureaucratically inefficient) intervention in a messy place. Like, a question anyone who (like me) thinks this is a good idea should have to answer, is: what will be the consequences for the farmers who participate in this program? By which I mean: haven’t we already seen what happens when apolitical subsistence-citizens, who live in remote regions controlled by rebels, try to work with the central (US-backed) government or armed forces? They get killed as a warning to all other potential collaborators, is what happens; it’s the old vaccination-severed arms story from Apocalypse Now, which is more or less carried out in every Middle Easter hamlet where we try to establish a socially productive presence, so yeah this is a fascinating idea Hitch as long as we acknowledge that we’re still going to need troops (more than are there now) to do what they’ve been doing, namely protect the people who aren’t petrified in taking part in all these great ideas we have for improving their lives.
Related: Jon Lee Anderson’s marvelous, maddening report on the U.S. military’s poppy eradication in Afghanistan.