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Underwriting the Taliban

Even before September 11th, most Americans were well aware of the hostility that many Middle Eastern nations have for the U.S. Our experiences with Iran, Libya, Iraq, and now Afghanistan have understandably soured many Americans on the entire region. Indeed, the majority of anti-American sentiment in the post-Cold War era originates in the Middle East. What many Americans don’t realize, however, is the extent to which their own foreign aid tax dollars are spent funding our current and future enemies in the region.

We should recognize that American tax dollars helped to create the very Taliban government that now wants to destroy us. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the CIA was very involved in the training and funding of various fundamentalist Islamic groups in Afghanistan, some of which later became today’s brutal Taliban government. In fact, the U.S. government admits to giving the groups at least 6 billion dollars in military aid and weaponry, a staggering sum that would be even larger in today’s dollars.

Bin Laden himself received training and weapons from the CIA, and that agency’s military and financial assistance helped the Afghan rebels build a set of encampments around the city of Khost. Tragically, those same camps became terrorist training facilities for Bin Laden, who uses some of the same soldiers our military once trained as lieutenants in his sickening terrorist network. Our heroic pilots are now busy bombing the same camps we paid to build, all the while threatened by the same Stinger missiles originally supplied by our CIA. Once again, the stark result of our foreign aid, however well-intentioned, was the arming and training of forces that later become our enemy.

Our foolish funding of Afghan terrorists hardly ended in the 1980s, however. Millions of your tax dollars continue to pour into Afghanistan even today. Our government publicly supported the Taliban right up until September 11. Already in 2001 the U.S. has provided $125 million in so-called humanitarian aid to the country, making us the world’s single largest donor to Afghanistan. Rest assured the money went straight to the Taliban, and not to the impoverished, starving residents that make up most of the population. Do we really expect a government as intolerant and anti-west as the Taliban to use our foreign aid for humane purposes? If so, we are incredibly naive; if not, we foolishly have been seeking to influence a government that regards America as an enemy.

Incredibly, in May the U.S. announced that we would reward the Taliban with an additional $43 million in aid for its actions in banning the cultivation of poppy used to produce heroin and opium. Taliban rulers had agreed to assist us in our senseless drug war by declaring opium growing “against the will of God.” They weren’t serious, of course. Although reliable economic data for Afghanistan is nearly impossible to find (there simply is not much of an economy), the reality is that opium is far and away the most profitable industry in the country. The Taliban was hardly prepared to give up virtually its only source of export revenue, any more than the demand for opium was suddenly going to disappear. If anything, Afghanistan’s production of opium is growing. Experts estimate it has doubled since 1999; the relatively small country is now believed to provide the raw material for fully 75% of the world’s heroin. How tragic that our government was willing to ignore Taliban brutality in its quest to find “victories in the failed drug war.

U.S. taxpayers have a right to know exactly what we’re getting for our foreign aid dollars. Have we helped bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan? Have we eased suffering there? Have we added to stability in the region? Have we earned the love or respect of the Afghan people? Have we made an ally of the Taliban government? The answer to all of these entirely reasonable questions is a resounding NO. Afghanistan is in chaos, its people starving, and its government is now an outright enemy of the United States. As we yet again find ourselves at war with forces we once funded and supported, the wisdom of foreign aid must be challenged. Peaceful relations and trade with every nation should be our goals, and the first step in accomplishing both should be to stop sending taxpayer dollars overseas.

Ron Paul, M.D., represents the 14th Congressional District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives.

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