Two Narratives That Won't Die: Which Is Crazier?

There's the narrative of "the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to hack the election."  And then there's the narrative of "Trump obstructed justice by telling Comey to go easy on Flynn" or maybe "by firing Comey."  How many news stories have you read in the months since the election promoting one or both of these two narratives?  500?  1000?  More?  Do you think that the people promoting these narratives would be feeling a bit embarrassed by now?

But of course it's the opposite.  Even today, long after both narratives have completely fallen apart, their promoters -- and particularly the nutcases at the New York Times -- continue their desperate search for some crumb to report to keep one or the other of these narratives alive.  Which of the two is crazier?  You be the judge!

And thus on the front page of the New York Times for August 29 we learn that their crack team of reporters has finally gotten their hands on a real live email showing that Trump colluded with the Russians.  Or something like that.  The story, headlined "Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected,'" is by Matt Apuzzo and Maggie Haberman.  It seems that the Trump Organization has produced emails to the House Intelligence Committee in connection with the ongoing investigation of Russian "meddling" in the 2016 election, and involvement of the Trump campaign in same, if any.  The Times reporters have managed to get access to some of the emails.  What is the best they can find in this trove of information?

It's a November 3, 2015 email from a guy named Felix Sater to Michael Cohen, one of the in-house counsel at the Trump Organization.  The Times's characterization:

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of RussiaVladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency. 

The text of the email?:

Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin's private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.  I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. . . .  I know how to play it and we will get this done.  Buddy our boy will become President of the USA and we can engineer it.  I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this . . . .  

Well, did anybody ever follow up on this, and did anything happen with it?  

There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises, and one email suggests that Mr. Sater overstated his Russian ties. In January 2016, Mr. Cohen wrote to Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, asking for help restarting the Trump Tower project, which had stalled. But Mr. Cohen did not appear to have Mr. Peskov’s direct email, and instead wrote to a general inbox for press inquiries.  The project never got government permits or financing, and died weeks later.

Yes, this article was on the front page.  Dozens of reporters and hundreds of hours of work, and this is all they've come up with.  And still they soldier on!

But is that crazier than the "obstruction of justice" narrative?  On that narrative, we have a big front page story today, "Mueller Has Early Draft of Trump Letter Giving Reasons for Firing Comey," by Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman.  Yes, it's the same Maggie Haberman -- she's the official mistress of conspiracy theories at Pravda.  

The overriding story is that special counsel Robert Mueller supposedly continues to investigate the subject of Trump's potential "obstruction of justice" by giving directions to Comey or firing him or something like that.  Today's nugget that supposedly justifies a front-page article is that there was a draft of a letter to Comey, firing him, that was prepared by President Trump and White House counselor Stephen Miller.  That draft was different from the final version of the letter delivered to Comey!  The White House counsel weighed in and modified the letter, including to give different reasons for the firing than appeared in the original Trump/Miller draft!  Of course, the Times reporters have not actually seen the draft, and cannot give us the specifics of what was changed.

So you ask, what if anything does this have to do with obstruction of justice?  You won't find the answer to that question in this article.  Are you shocked to learn that lawyers sometimes review drafts of letters and suggest modifications to the client to keep him out of legal trouble?

Over at National Review, Andrew McCarthy makes the points that we have been making here at Manhattan Contrarian since back in June and July:

As we have repeatedly observed . . . it makes no more sense to talk about an obstruction indictment of the president over his urging the FBI director or the attorney general to shut down an investigation than it does to talk about such an indictment over a presidential pardon. . . .  [T]he president’s subordinates have [no] power to countermand him. The “independence of law enforcement” is an aspiration — and a worthy one in most instances. But it is not even a fact, much less a legal rule. Notwithstanding the grandiloquence of high-ranking law-enforcement officials about their vaunted independence, they do not constitute a separate branch of government.  Not only do they work for the chief executive; they do not even have their own power. Under the Constitution, only one official in the executive branch has power — the president. The first sentence of Article II is crystal clear: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States."

Unfortunately, New York Times, when you put stories like these on the front page, intelligent readers will draw the inference that this is the best you've got to support your narrative.  Nine months of hyperventilation, and this is all you've come up with?  Really???

Should The Federal Government Just Write A Blank Check To Cover The Flooding In Houston?

You have to be impressed with the response so far by the Texans to the massive floods in the Houston area.  Media reports are filled with images of fleets of privately-owned boats joining in rescue efforts, of hundreds of people lining up to join in volunteer efforts at shelters and food pantries, of brave volunteers carrying old people and children and dogs through the flood waters to safety.  These people are remarkably and commendably self-reliant and immediately willing to pitch in to help their neighbors when trouble hits.

And then yesterday Texas Governor Greg Abbott came out and said that Texas will "need" a federal "relief package" (aka handout) "in excess of" $125 billion.  Whoa! -- What happened to that old Texas self-reliance, Greg?  Not to be outdone, Houston-area Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee immediately upped the ante to $155 billion.  Next thing you know, seemingly conservative Republican and budget-hawkish Senator Ted Cruz was joining Lee to make the demand for the massive federal handout "bipartisan."  Back in 2012/13 Cruz had earned himself much scorn from New Yorkers for providing at least a little token push-back against the then-proposed $60 billion federal "relief" handout after Hurricane Sandy.  I guess that was then.

Actually, I can't say I blame these Texans.  Katrina in 2005 and then Sandy in 2012 set the new parameters for federal handouts after natural disasters, which basically come down to this: When people are dying in the streets, the feds can't say no; so now is your chance to get everything on your wish list and then some paid for by the infinite bag of free federal money.  Louisiana and New York played this game brilliantly, and got all the other states to pay for everything with even the most tenuous relationship to their hurricanes.  Having been on the paying end a couple of times, you can't expect the Texans to sit back and fail to collect when their turn comes.

In a post way back on January 2, 2013 I warned New Yorkers that they were playing a dangerous game by demanding a massive blank-check handout from the feds for recovery from Hurricane Sandy, because New York is not much subject to natural disasters like hurricanes and tornados, and we would end up paying ten or twenty times over to the other states by the time we were done:

Federal government open-check-book disaster relief is . . . a particularly terrible idea for New York and New Jersey, because these areas, thankfully, are not very subject to natural disasters.  We almost never get a serious tornado or earthquake, and hurricanes, while they do occur, are quite rare here compared to other areas like the Gulf Coast and Florida.  According to data from NOAA here, in the 50 years from 1961 to 2010 some 27 "major" hurricanes (categories 3, 4 and 5) made landfall in the United States.  Of those, 23 hit the Gulf Coast or Florida; 3 hit the Carolinas; and just one (Gloria in 1985) hit in the mid-Atlantic.  While we may be looking to get a big handout at this moment, over time the disaster relief game is a massive transfer away from New York and New Jersey and to other areas far more susceptible to hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes.  By demanding this relief now, we are encouraging more building in those areas and setting ourselves up to pay 10 or 20 or more times any amount we can hope to get in today's handout.         

Ability to do this kind of simple arithmetic was never the strong suit of New York progressives.  Things have been relatively calm in hurricane world since 2012; however, we are now seeing the early stages of the inevitable turnabout.

But, you ask, isn't paying the bills for recovery from a big natural disaster a basic job of the federal government?  Actually, not at all.  From the beginning of the republic through well into the twentieth century, the federal government provided nothing at all in the way of disaster relief funds.  Consider this history from the Texas Almanac of the Galveston hurricane of 1900.  The town was literally wiped out.  Almost all the buildings were destroyed and something close to half the people died.  Disaster relief poured in from charitable efforts, from other states, and from the state of Texas.  The feds contributed not a dime; and what's more, it seems that nobody even thought to ask them.  In those days, this just wasn't viewed as part of the federal mission.

And that wasn't much changed well into your lifetime.  FEMA was only created in 1979.  As recently as 2000, the feds contributed relatively small amounts for hurricane recovery to supplement state, local and charitable efforts.  At this link, CNN helpfully compiles the losses from hurricanes since 2000 that have caused $1 billion and more of damages, and how much of those losses have been paid for by the federal government.  Pre-Katrina in 2005, the federal contributions were remarkably small:  Of about $2 billion in losses from Lili in 2002, the feds covered only about 7%; of about $8 billion from Isabel in 2003, the feds covered about 18%; of about $21 billion from Charley in 2004, the feds covered about 10%; and so forth.  Summarizing the pre-Katrina situation, CNN states:

In the half dozen storms that caused at least $1 billion in damages immediately before Hurricane Katrina, the federal government contributed funds to cover only 17% of estimated damages in federal aid, on average.    

Hey, we're just trying to be nice!  The problem is that once the feds got into paying something, there was no limiting principle.  If you have an infinite pile of free money, and you recognize a responsibility to pay something, why shouldn't you pay everything?  Then Katrina (2005) blew the lid off any restraints of any kind on the federal handouts.  The losses from Katrina were in the range of $160 billion, and the cable news networks ran nonstop footage of the drowning and the suffering and the destruction for weeks on end.  By the time it was over the feds had paid about $115 billion, or some 72% of all losses.  

And once that had happened, why should anybody else with a natural disaster on their hands settle for a federal contribution of a lousy 10 or 20 percent?  Federal contributions for run-of-the-mill hurricanes immediately ratcheted up to the 30-60% range.  Then, with Sandy in 2012, New York and New Jersey put on a full court press to squeeze every possible dollar out of the feds, with a supportive Obama administration that thought that passing out the free money was their highest calling in life.  According to the CNN chart, the feds paid almost $60 billion, some 80% of around $75 billion in losses from that storm (that barely qualified for hurricane status).  Over to you, Texas!

So, other than the Manhattan Contrarian, is there anyone else out there who might advocate for putting any kind of reasonable limits on the federal contributions to Hurricane Harvey relief?  I can't think of who in Congress might do it.  President Trump?  I suspect he will be only too happy to see a big payoff go to people who are essentially his core supporters.  The media?  They're looking for any excuse to excoriate Trump for being too stingy.

Meanwhile, I'm sorry but $150 billion or so is real money.  With the federal money, Houston will be rebuilt bigger and better than ever in the same flood plain, waiting for the next "500 year flood" -- of which they've already had three in the past three years.  The current dearth of major landfalling hurricanes will inevitably end.  Does anyone care if this is a sustainable model? 

UPDATE, September 5, 2017:  With Hurricane Irma now a Category 5 and approaching the Gold Coast of Florida, I'm wondering if another big strike might knock some sense into anybody.  Even if we've gotten to a point where $150 billion seems like just a rounding error in the federal budget, how about $300 billion?  Tens of billions to restore the ocean-facing condos of the wealthy? 

How To "Solve" All Known Human Problems: Spend Some Of The Infinite Free Federal Money

Are you somebody who laments the end of bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress?  You feel that politics has become so polarized that we just can't "get anything done" any more.  Why can't the Congress just get back to "solving problems" like it used to?

If you are one of these people, you will be glad to hear that a new bipartisan "Problem Solvers Caucus" has been formed in the Congress.  It consists of some 43 Congresspeople, roughly equally split between the two parties.  The leaders are Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).  Gottheimer -- who narrowly took his Northern NJ seat from eight-term conservative Republican Scott Garrett in the last election -- has a website biography of himself that doesn't even mention his political party.  Instead, it rings with the clarion call for bipartisanship.  Sounds like he's your type of guy!

Josh’s approach to public service is rooted in his experience in both the public and private sectors. During his time working with President Clinton, Senator Frank Lautenberg, and Speaker Thomas Foley, he saw that, by seeking common ground, it’s possible to find a bipartisan path forward without compromising your core values. Josh firmly believes that it doesn’t matter if an idea comes from the Democratic or Republican side of the aisle, only whether it will help the communities and people of the Fifth District.

As its first task, the Problem Solvers Caucus has taken on Obamacare.  Here we have the ultimate polarizing partisan issue.  Not a single Republican voted for the Obamacare bills on their way to enactment back in 2010, and not a single Democrat has voted for any of the Republican-sponsored repeal/replace measures that have been under consideration by Congress this year.  And as a result, as premiums soar, insurers withdraw, and Obamacare otherwise craters, we are at an impasse with seemingly no resolution in sight.  Surely this is a clear example of a "problem" that is in desperate need of a "solution."  Call in the Problem Solvers!

And it turns out that the Problem Solvers have actually put forth their proposed solution (or more precisely, plural solutions) in a press release issued on July 31.  Here is a copy of the press release from the website of another member of the Caucus, Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA).  Will it surprise you to learn that essentially every proposed "solution" consists of the exact same thing, namely throwing more and more of the infinite free federal money at Obamacare to keep it afloat and save its participants from having to pay the full cost of their "coverage"?  Some excerpts, with comments interspersed:

1. Bring cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments under the Congressional oversight and appropriations process, but ensure they have mandatory funding. CSR payments are an important part of helping households earning between 100% and 250% of the federal poverty level afford to participate in the individual market. Bringing CSR payments under the appropriations process ensures that Congress can provide proper oversight.

The "cost sharing reduction payments" -- those are the insurance company bailouts that were provided for in the Obamacare law, but without appropriation, and then Congress declined to appropriate the money.  So Obama just went ahead and spent the money anyway without appropriation and in defiance of the Constitution.  A federal judge in the D.C. District Court declared the payments unconstitutional, but then declined to issue an injunction pending appeal.  Meanwhile, the Problem Solvers decline to tell us how much money they are prepared to throw at this.  But with a little research, we find that the amount of the CSR payments has recently been running around $7 billion per year, and with projections that the subsidies will rapidly escalate to around $12 billion annually by as soon as 2020.  By the way, President Trump has so far continued these blatantly unconstitutional expenditures, although to his partial credit he has said he will discontinue them as part of his strategy to get Congress to act on Obamacare repeal.  Thus, note that in the "Problem Solvers" press release, the phrase "bring CSR payments under the Congressional oversight and appropriations process" is the euphemism of the moment for "spend $120 billion or so over the next ten years of the infinite free federal money so that people don't have to take responsibility for themselves."  Problem solved!

2. Create a dedicated stability fund that states can use to reduce premiums and limit losses for providing coverage—especially for those with pre-existing conditions.

"Create a dedicated stability fund" -- another one of the literally infinite number of euphemisms for "throw some more of the infinite free federal money at it."  For this one I can't find any estimate of the cost.  $100 billion?  How about a trillion?  Problem solved!

3. Adjust the employer mandate by raising the threshold on the requirement for employers to provide insurance under the employer mandate to businesses of 500 employees or more. . . . Additionally, the definition of “full time” under the employer mandate should indicate that a full-time work week is 40 hours.   

Did you doubt that there is an infinite number of ways to say "throw some more of the infinite free federal money at it"?  This time it's "adjust the employer mandate" -- which of course means that fewer people will be insured through employers, which means that more people will head for the exchanges, which then means more of the "cost sharing reduction" payments.  Of course, the infinite free federal money will step in.  Problem solved!

4. Repeal the medical device tax. This tax adds a 2.3% sales tax on medical device supplies. The costs of the tax are passed on to consumers and it should be repealed. 

Well, that's roughly $3 billion per year that was a big part of the "scoring" that supposedly made Obamacare affordable.  But then, a lousy $3 billion per year is not even a rounding error when the money you are playing with is infinite and free.  Problem solved!

Read enough of this stuff and you start to understand what Rep. Gottheimer is talking about when he says "it doesn’t matter if an idea comes from the Democratic or Republican side of the aisle, only whether it will help the communities and people. . . ."  It means "Republicans can also come up with ways to throw around the infinite free federal money."  The people on the paying end will never notice!  What I can't believe is how many Republican Congresspeople are dumb enough to get schnookered into going along with these transparent dependency-creating vote buying schemes for Democrats.

Where is a single Congressperson from the Democratic side who will go along with any "solution" to any "problem" that involves spending less federal money?

What Is The Argument In Favor Of HUD?

I last visited the subject of HUD and its new Secretary Ben Carson back in May ("The Blob Goes After Ben Carson").  In recent months the news has been so dominated by fake and ridiculous stories (e.g., Russia!; accusations of racism against anybody else who doesn't toe the progressive line in every respect) that the subject of Carson and HUD has largely been wiped off the front pages, and even the inside pages.  But this week New York Magazine comes back with a long piece by Alec MacGillis titled "Is Anybody Home at Ben Carson's HUD?"  

Needless to say, MacGillis doesn't have one good word to say about Carson or what he is doing at HUD.  On the other hand, the Manhattan Contrarian and others have thoroughly documented why HUD -- and for that matter the whole subject of subsidized housing for the poor -- has been a disaster for the supposed beneficiaries, trapping millions of people perfectly capable of providing for themselves into a lifetime of government dependency.  What is the progressive answer to those reasonable objections?

The New York Magazine article does not devote a single word to trying to respond to the many perfectly reasonable criticisms of HUD and its program of government dependency.  Instead, it appears that the entire argument for maintaining the HUD mission and budget is that people once in dependency must always be maintained in dependency because they have been rendered helpless and any other alternative would therefore be cruel.  

A few excerpts.  First, MacGillis quotes Shaun Donovan, first HUD Secretary under President Obama:

[A]lmost 90 percent of our budget was to help people stay in their homes,” Shaun Donovan told me. “So when you have a 15 percent cut to that budget, by definition you’re going to be throwing people out of their homes. You’re literally taking vouchers away from families, you’re literally shutting down public housing, because it can’t be maintained anymore.”

You'll be "throwing people out of their homes!!!!!"  Without HUD subsidies these people are supposedly helpless.  Left unmentioned is that HUD subsidizes only about 3 million families in the U.S., which is something in the range of 2 to 3% of all families.  How are the other 97/98% somehow getting by?  

Then we get into the heart-rending stories of people seemingly incapable of tying their own shoelaces without some kind of HUD grant or handout:

In Glouster, Ohio, a tiny coal town that went for Trump by a single vote after going for Obama two to one in 2012, officials were counting on the grants to replace a bridge so weak that the school bus couldn’t cross it, forcing kids from one part of town to cluster along a busy road for pickup. “Without those funds, it would just cripple this area,” said Nathan Simons, who administers the grants for the surrounding region. . . .  On my travels through the Midwest I’ve seen how many federally subsidized housing complexes there are on the edges of small towns and cities, places very far from the Bronx or the South Side of Chicago. People living in these places rely on a functioning, minimally competent HUD no less than do the Section 8 voucher recipients in Jared Kushner’s low-income complexes in Baltimore. In an age of ever-widening income inequality, the Great Society department actually plays an even more vital role than when it was conceived.

OK, Alec, but what do you say to the fact that a place like Houston, with a minimal amount of HUD-subsidized housing (0.4% of the population) has far lower cost of housing and far less homelessness per capita than a place like New York, where over 5% of the population lives in HUD-subsidized housing?  What do you say to the fact that almost nobody ever moves out of HUD-subsidized housing and nearly all of the beneficiaries end up leading lives of government dependency?  What do you say to the fact that HUD-subsidized housing can never be bought or sold or mortgaged and leaves the beneficiaries in poverty for life, even when they receive an annual subsidy that can be valued at $50,000 or more?  What do you say to the fact that numerous HUD-subsidized projects need massive capital upgrades and there is no foreseeable source of the funds other than doubling or tripling taxpayer subsidies, as long as the projects remain in the HUD domain?  MacGillis does not address any of these questions.

Instead, we read about the horror experienced by the "housing experts" when their turf gets taken over by the rubes.

[T]o many HUD employees, the selection of so ill-qualified a leader felt like an insult. “People feel disrespected. They see Carson and think, I’ve been in housing policy for 20 or 30 years, and if I walked away, I would never expect to get hired as a nurse,” said one staffer at a branch office, who, like most employees I spoke with, requested anonymity to guard against retribution.

Well, these so-called "housing experts" have spent 50 years at HUD, spending a couple of trillion dollars or so of taxpayer money, and have never raised a single person out of poverty, while trapping a few million in dependency for life.  What kind of "expertise" is that?  Seems to me we could use a new approach.  Even something entirely random would be far better.  Doing nothing whatsoever and letting the whole thing die?  That would be great too.

UPDATE August 29:  I thought readers might enjoy this picture of HUD headquarters in Washington.  Doesn't it tell you all you need to know?

HUD HQ.jpg

   

 

There's No Good Answer In Afghanistan

I don't comment much here on the subjects of geopolitics and foreign policy.  A big reason for that is that much of the information needed to comment intelligently is not available to people outside the government.  On the other hand, just because the government actors have access to far more information than us mere citizens does not necessarily mean that they can come with any good ideas of what to do in difficult situations.  Unfortunately, when there are no obvious good ideas of what to do, the prescriptions of the government actors almost always come down to the same thing, which is "give us more money and more personnel to keep doing what we are doing."  That is certainly a fair description of the Afghanistan situation.  

During the his campaign for President, Donald Trump did not make a big issue out of Afghanistan.  However, when he did address it, both during the campaign and before, he was clear that he thought the right answer was to get out promptly.  From a compilation at CNBC on August 21:

Five years ago to the day Monday, Trump called Afghanistan "a complete waste." He added: "Time to come home!" . . .  In a March 2013 tweet, he said the U.S. "should leave Afghanistan immediately."   "No more wasted lives," Trump tweeted. "If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the US first."

Seven months later -- and doubtless after having been worked over multiple times by his generals and his foreign policy advisors -- Trump has now agreed to keep on slugging it out for the foreseeable future in that godforsaken country.   Here is the full text of his August 21 speech on the subject.  Basically, he admitted that there is no alternative to continued efforts to suppress terrorist activity in Afghanistan:

A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies. . . .  We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq. . . .  I [have] concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense. Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.

Of course, what Trump didn't do in the speech was to give any real idea of what our ultimate goal is and whether there is any hope of ever actually achieving it and declaring the effort concluded.  It's just as well he didn't address those things, because the answers will not be anything that anyone wants to hear.  Goal?  The best we can hope for is to maintain a highly unsatisfactory status quo, where an official government (more or less entirely on our payroll) keeps a tenuous grip on some of the more important areas of the country, and the Taliban and other terrorist organizations do not completely take over and run the place as a world terrorist training ground.  Cost: $1 trillion and counting.  Hey, since it's now been about 17 years, that's less than $60 billion per year.  A bargain!

Actually, I don't mean to be too critical.  Also, I'm interested in whether readers think they have any better ideas.  A few thoughts:

  • Trump's strategy does at least contain some substantial improvements over Obama's.  Obama's idea of pre-announcing the upcoming withdrawal date was always lunacy.  Of course the adversaries would just lie low and wait him out.  As soon as he was gone they were back bigger than ever.   
  • Those advocating something dramatically different often say something like "go hard or get out." That's easy to say, but what does "go hard" even mean in practice?  This is not a situation where there is some formal army that can be defeated or captured and then the war is over.  Does "go hard" mean killing every single person in the country?
  • And then there's the "get out" part.  Trump is absolutely right in reminding us that the reason we "got in" in the first place was that Afghanistan had been used as the site of the training base for the 9/11 attacks.  Would anyone tolerate allowing that to happen again?

After about 40 years of invasions and civil wars, there is essentially no industry in Afghanistan.  Not that there ever was much, but with constant fighting going on, nobody is going to undertake any project -- like a large factory or a mine -- that involves hundreds of millions of dollars in investment that can then immediately be lost.  So that leaves exactly two sources of real income (other than subsistence farming) in Afghanistan:  working for the Americans or NATO, and opium poppies.  More or less all of our "friends" in that country are on our payroll.  I'm not meaning to say that they are not necessarily sympathetic to our goals.  But when we leave, what do they have to fall back on?  Opium, opium, and opium.

And of course, a little-mentioned aspect of our mission in Afghanistan has been a massive effort to eradicate the production of opium.  Here's a write-up from Common Dreams back in 2014.  At that point, some $7 billion had been spent in the opium-eradication efforts.  The result?:

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Attorney General Eric Holder and US AID head Rajiv Shah, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko writes: "Despite spending over $7 billion to combat opium poppy cultivation and to develop the Afghan government’s counternarcotics capacity, opium poppy cultivation levels in Afghanistan hit an all-time high in 2013."  "As of June 30, 2014, the United States has spent approximately $7.6 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan," the letter states.  "Despite the significant financial expenditure, opium poppy cultivation has far exceeded previous records," he writes, adding that this "calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of those prior efforts."

Is there any hope of ever making any progress on this effort?:

Though the crop has funded extremist and criminal groups and contributed to a public health crisis, many Afghans see opium poppy cultivation as their only option. A UNODC report issued last year stated that Afghan farmers cited as among the top reasons for their cultivation of opium poppy its high sales price, high income from little land, improving their living conditions, and poverty. 

In other words, no.

So is there any possible better strategy than the one Trump has reluctantly accepted?  The only one I can see involves accepting the opium trade and doing some kind of a deal with the Taliban.  I'm not saying that's a good answer either, but the alternative is $60 billion (and probably much more) per year, thousands of deaths, and a festering status quo.  Anyway, with the opioid crisis exploding back here in the U.S., and Afghanistan as the largest supplier of the non-synthetic part of that market, neither Trump nor any other President was going to accept that alternative at this moment.