In yet another moment that will leave you shaking your head and asking yourself whose side Republicans are really on, the Senate leadership yesterday tried to block a bill by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that would provide $700 million in funding for a program to "combat the growth of poppies in Afghanistan and to eliminate the production and trade of opium, and heroin, and to prevent terrorists from using the proceeds for terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere."
"Our soldiers fought long and hard to rid Afghanistan of terrorists and Taliban," Schumer said. "However, if the drug trade continues to surge and consume the nation, their heroic efforts may be undone."
"The Taliban draws its strength from the drug trade and in order to prevent them from reclaiming the country, we need to crack down the drugs that fuel their regime," he continued. "We need to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources available to attack this problem before it becomes far worse."
Schumer's S.Amdt. 4897, an amendment to the 2007 Defense appropriations bill passed yesterday, was a move by Senate Democrats to double the funding for the existing Department of Defense counter-narcotics operation in Afghanistan and a response to reports that opium production is up 50 percent in that country in 2006.
It is known that Afghanistan's massive drug trade, which provides 92 percent of the world's opium, is one of the primary sources of funding for the Taliban, with that group generating roughly 70 percent of its income through the production and sale of opium. And a report released by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said that rampant opium production and illicit drug trafficking could cripple the already fragile Afghan government.
Republicans tried to get rid of Schumer's measure when Ted Stevens (R-AK) made a motion to table the bill, effectively killing it. That attempt was defeated when it failed to receive a simple 50-vote majority. However, 44 Republicans and one Democrat -- is it any surprise that the latter was Nebraska's Ben Nelson? -- voted to kill the amendment and, when that didn't happen, S.Amdt. 4897 passed by a voice vote.
A voice vote is often invoked in the Senate to protect those taking an unpopular stance and was undoubtedly mandated by the GOP leadership when it was obvious the bill would pass and they didn't want 44 Republican Senators on the record as having voted against it.
Stevens gave weak opposition to the measure saying that drug abatement in Afghanistan is not the Department of Defense's job and that Schumer was requesting too much money.
"In the current bills pending for approval, there is already $346 million for counterdrug activities in Afghanistan for 2007, notwithstanding the carryover money that is available," said Stevens. "This means there is approximately $400 million that will be available in 2007 already and the Senator wants to add $700 million to that. That is an enormous amount of money."
Meanwhile, Schumer pressed the case that it's better to spend a relatively small amount of money to dry up the Taliban's revenue source than to fight their resurgence in Afghanistan and risk losing the gains made there due to the Bush administration's ill-advised focus on Iraq.
"In this year alone, there were over 400,000 acres of poppies planted, compared to 250,000 acres in 2005--a 50-percent increase. Why is this happening?" asked Schumer on the Senate floor yesterday. "It is happening in Afghanistan because the administration failed to finish the job when we changed our focus to Iraq, and now the country is swarming with corrupt warlords and the Taliban is once again taking control over a large portion of the country."
"For people who say this significant amount of money is not useful, it sure is. On a cost-effective basis, it is. It costs a lot more to fight terrorists who use the money from the poppy trade than to fight the poppy trade itself."
Fortunately, despite the GOP's inexplicable opposition to this bill, it passed with the support of a handful of Republican votes.
Schumer completed his speech yesterday by suggesting that as we approach the five-year anniversary of our country being hit with an attack that originated in Afghanistan, we not allow things to go back to the way they were in that country.
"If we want to stop the Taliban from going back to where they were before 9/11, we must stop the way they prosper, survive, and fund themselves," said Schumer. "To show that we are serious about combating cultivation of poppies and the production and trade of opium and heroin, we must put additional resources into the fight. If we don't, Afghanistan's drug trade will come back to haunt us."
You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com.