[The American plan to convince Afghan farmers not to grow poppies: some good old cow dung smothered in politically expedient B.S. Photo from the New York Times.]

In the old days (before 9/11, the posters for Osama dead or alive, the seeming fall of the Taliban, Operation Shock and Awe, etc.) before terrorism merited an all-out war, there were more socially-minded wars on the American political scene. An earlier Texan (so early he was Democratic) named Lyndon Johnson started a War on Poverty. The wealth of Bill Gates shows how well that succeeded. Then Betty Ford helped launch a War on Drugs. Casualty figures for this have been withheld by the government for insecurity reasons. Indeed, today’s New York Times has an article that suggests the War on Drugs has fused with the War on Terrorism and we are losing on both fronts. “Afghanistan produced record levels of opium in 2007 for the second straight year, led by a staggering 45 percent increase in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand Province, according to a new United Nations survey to be released Monday.” writes David Rohde in his article “Taliban Raise Poppy Production to a Record Again.” He adds, “Here in Helmand, the breadth of the poppy trade is staggering. A sparsely populated desert province twice the size of Maryland, Helmand produces more narcotics than any country on earth, including Myanmar, Morocco and Colombia. Rampant poverty, corruption among local officials, a Taliban resurgence and spreading lawlessness have turned the province into a narcotics juggernaut.”

The current crisis makes one wonder if all involved are not snorting the fruit of the poppy. Consider a report issued when the Taliban were in control of most of Afghanistan:

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (February 15, 2001 8:19 p.m. EST)

U.N. drug control officers said the Taliban religious militia has nearly wiped out opium production in Afghanistan — once the world’s largest producer — since banning poppy cultivation last summer.

A 12-member team from the U.N. Drug Control Program spent two weeks searching most of the nation’s largest opium-producing areas and found so few poppies that they do not expect any opium to come out of Afghanistan this year.

“We are not just guessing. We have seen the proof in the fields,” said Bernard Frahi, regional director for the U.N. program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He laid out photographs of vast tracts of land cultivated with wheat alongside pictures of the same fields taken a year earlier — a sea of blood-red poppies.

A State Department official said Thursday all the information the United States has received so far indicates the poppy crop had decreased, but he did not believe it was eliminated.

Last year, Afghanistan produced nearly 4,000 tons of opium, about 75 percent of the world’s supply, U.N. officials said. Opium — the milky substance drained from the poppy plant — is converted into heroin and sold in Europe and North America. The 1999 output was a world record for opium production, the United Nations said — more than all other countries combined, including the “Golden Triangle,” where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s supreme leader, banned poppy growing before the November planting season and augmented it with a religious edict making it contrary to the tenets of Islam.

The Taliban, which has imposed a strict brand of Islam in the 95 percent of Afghanistan it controls, has set fire to heroin laboratories and jailed farmers until they agreed to destroy their poppy crops.

The U.N. surveyors, who completed their search this week, crisscrossed Helmand, Kandahar, Urzgan and Nangarhar provinces and parts of two others — areas responsible for 86 percent of the opium produced in Afghanistan last year, Frahi said in an interview Wednesday. They covered 80 percent of the land in those provinces that last year had been awash in poppies.

This year they found poppies growing on barely an acre here and there, Frahi said. The rest — about 175,000 acres — was clean.

Mullah Omar was right. Opium is a rather blatant intoxicant (muskir) and totally prohibited in Islamic law; it makes wine look like milk in comparison. Muslims should not use it and at the time it seemed that Muslims should not even grow it. Then Yawm al-Qiyama descended on the Taliban and the SUV mullahs headed for the friendly caves of Pakistan. Speed (no pun intended) forward about six years from the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and we find that opium production, now encouraged and profited by the Taliban-in-waiting, has reached new and unprecedented levels. If the Great Satan wishes to inhale and get high, then God be praised. And perhaps the failure of the most powerful military on earth to find Osama or root out the Taliban or win over the local population has encouraged the entourage of the Great Satan (and quite a few little satans as well) to get high and drown their frustration in a moment of ecstasy.

Duh? Let’s replay this scenario. Osama inspires a few frustrated “brothers” to hijack airplanes and fly into one of the dominant symbols of American commerce. Nevermind that like opium, such suicidal destruction of innocent victims is condemned in almost all Islamic teaching. The U.S. declares war on Osama and anyone who hides him, invades Afghanistan and dislodges the Taliban leadership. Billions of dollars are poured into the country but almost six years later no one knows where Osama or Mullah Omar are hiding (if they even need to hide these days). Plus (now a minus), the unmitigated success story of Stage One of the War on Terrorism is sidetracked to Iraq. Shock and awe melds eventually into the shock that we were misled on the reasons for taking out Saddam and how awful (drop the ‘e’) the neoconned planning of the campaign turned out to be. For awhile no one knew where Saddam was, but then he turned up as an ace in the hole. A long and tedious trial was held to appease Western values and then the execution of the former dictator was botched, making him look rather heroic at the last moment. And the war drags on today, but not with the number of military fatalities of the Vietnam War, so why all the fuss? “They” hate us because we value freedom and don’t expect 72 virgins (hell, it would be hard enough to find 72 virgins in one place even on earth) when we pass by St. Peter at the gate. But it’s not about religion. And the Coalition of the Willing is not a Crusade (that term can now be retired and only used in reference to Billy Graham). Election year politics is behind it all; so says the Karl Rove report machine. Lame Duck (not to be confused with dick Cheney’s shooting prowess) George Bush the Younger (or shall we say “Lesser”) no doubt goes to bed at night praying, “Please God, can you send another Monica and have her hit up Hillary this time. That gay marriage trick worked wonders last time.”

Duh? Who’s on drugs? It is clear that this administration has confused Bush for shove and has no clue who is on first. Pass the pretzels and turn out the lights in the White House.

Luke R. Publican