Monday, August 29, 2005

Strange Bedfellows on Drugs


If rule number one of public diplomacy is "Take your common ground where you find it," Robert Charles may be onto something.

Charles, a former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement in the Bush administration, wrote yesterday that one thing Americans and even the sternest Afghan mullahs can agree on is that they don't want their kids addicted to drugs. Roberts suggests that the U.S. use this sentiment to cultivate an alliance based on anti-drug education:

As Afghanistan staggers under a heroin trade that could end democracy, why not go to the heart of the problem and find common ground? Why not build on the absolute moral overlap between Sharia Law's opposition to heroin and our own moral opposition to drugs and drug-funded terrorism?

Last month, more than 500 Afghan religious leaders—that society's real force—met in Kabul to discuss drug addiction. They affirmed at least that they do not want the heroin trade in their communities. It is changing their society and taking their kids' future with it.

So, why not build on a common love for kids? Why not help these Afghan mullahs with an all-out, tailor-made, anti-drug education program? Why not beat this source of hopelessness? Since addiction also threatens Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) Pakistan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, and even Iraq, why not support mullahs there too? The message: Americans share your moral outrage and care about your kids.

While Roberts doesn't specify how the U.S. might win over Afghans suspicious that anti-drug programs were a wedge for greater U.S. involvement in their affairs, his framing of this idea is fresh and completely lacking in gung-ho drug-war rhetoric. We don't have to agree with others about everything, he seems to say, but the U.S. should seize on the agreement that does exist.

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