Yesterday there was a lot of discussion about Obama's response to the question about marijuana at his online forum. (Dday covered it here.) A lot of pro legalization activists as well as online activists rightly, in my view, were a bit miffed at the dismissive attitude.
But I think this speaks to the deeper problem of our government's approach to dealing with drugs everywhere. When Obama and his very enthusiastic audience laughed and applauded his condescension, it was sadly obvious that administration is as irrational and anti-intellectual on that issue as the Bush administration was on science during its eight years. It's a dangerous attitude considering what's happening south of the border right now. We need rationality more than ever right now.
And it's an even scarier thing when you consider Afghanistan. That's why these comments from Richard Holbrooke are rather intriguing:
Holbrooke did speak somewhat candidly about a vexing part of the Afghanistan problem: drugs. What to do about the opium flowing out of Afghanistan has always been a knotty element of US policy regarding Afghanistan. How much of a priority should it be? (Simply put, if you attack the the opium trade, warlords and locals get pissed off and join or support the other side.) Asked about the priority of drug fighting in the Afghanistan review, Holbrooke, as he was leaving the briefing, said "We're going to have to rethink the drug problem." That was interesting. He went on: "a complete rethink." He noted that the policymakers who had worked on the Afghanistan review "didn't come to a firm, final conclusion" on the opium question. "It's just so damn complicated," Holbrooke explained. Did that mean that the opium eradication efforts in Afghanistan should be canned? "You can't eliminate the whole eradication program," he exclaimed. But that remark did make it seem that he backed an easing up of some sort. "You have to put more emphasis on the agricultural sector," he added.
For years, officials of the US government and other government have pondered what to do about the poppy fields of Afghanistan. Holbrooke indicated he favors a significant shift in this front of the war on drugs. But what specific policy does he fancy? He offered no clues, and then began talking to several reporters in French. Whatever he was saying, it sounded quite good.
A very smart political friend and I were chattering about Afghanistan a couple of months ago and he wondered if it wouldn't be cheaper for the American government simply buy up the opium crop at top prices rather than spend the money on redevelopment and military action that never seems to work. My immediate thought was that even if people agreed that it would work, it would be impossible because of our irrational view of drugs in this country (as compared to billions spent on useless wars ....) But maybe I was wrong.
And maybe Holbrooke is just yammering about something completely different. But it would be great if there was some fresh thinking about this stuff. being irrational about drugs has gotten us absolutely nowhere. (And yes, Holbrooke needs to share some of that fresh thinking with his boss.)