I get irritated when people refer to a problem as intractable, insoluble. Some things actually are. But a lot of problems are only insoluble because the solution seems worse than the problem. Emphasis on "seems."
In any event, most problems have a solution. And if there's a solution, but we simply don't like the solution, we shouldn't say they are insoluble. We should say, "We choose not to solve that particular problem."
Joe Klein writing about Afghanistan points to the fact that with the Taliban and Al Qaeda safe within Pakistan, it's hard to see how we win. True. As I pointed out, oh, about two years ago. Klein also makes the point that the war in Afghanistan has become money-driven, more about opium and graft than religion.
I have a solution: we grow opium.
Follow me here. The Taliban and various narco-jihadists rely on opium for income. Income which translates into men and weapons. So the solution is straightforward: cut off their income. How? By drastically lowering the price of opium. And how do we do that? Well, ask yourself who can grow more opium at a lower cost: Abdul the Pashtun Poppy Planter? Or Archer Daniels Midland. Abdul has his faithful donkey who hauls his crop up winding mountain paths. ADM has trucks and trains.
We unleash the free market. The price of opium will drop like a rock. Abdul's income likewise plummets. The narco-jihadists have no money, thus no men, and no weapons.
Granted this would have the unintended consequence of securing Keith Richards' support for American foreign policy, but there's a bigger picture to consider. The situation on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border may metastisize and destabilize Pakistan itself. (If you can use the word "destabilize" in referring to a country that's already looking like a dreidel twirled by a drunk.)
Pakistan, in case you've forgotten, has nuclear weapons. Workable ones, not sad little firecrackers like North Korea has. If Pakistan goes over the edge it is very, very easy to see how New York City goes up in a mushroom cloud within a few months. So we have a lot on the line here.
If we grow opium we destroy the financing of the Taliban and in the process leave the Karzai government (using that word very loosely) of Afghanistan with only one source of income: American aid. In other words, we get a multiplier effect. It's quite a bit easier to monitor the uses of American aid than it is to keep track of drug money.
Why can't we do this? Because it would make us the world's leading supplier of drugs instead of being merely the world's leading consumer of drugs. We'd be producing what we consume and would lose our ability to pretend that we're not really the problem to begin with. There would no doubt be a shift away from relatively expensive drugs to cheaper opium. But who cares? Would there be an overall increase in the numbers of hardcore drug users? Doubtful. I still wouldn't shoot heroin. Not even if it was free. Would you?
The lives of perhaps millions of innocents, versus the lives of a handful of junkies. That's not what would stop us from pursuing this rational and effective policy. It's our hypocrisy that would stop us.