After a long, enduring struggle in Afghanistan, President Obama is considering an accelerated troop withdraw from the tempestuous state. Whereas the current exit strategy includes the steady removal of troops before January 2015, recent developments between Mr. Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have led to some mild reconsideration. During the past few months, a period in which deal making was atop the priority list, the two leaders’ relationship has all but completely collapsed. Frustrated, President Obama is now considering a ‘zero option’ concerning the Afghanistan War.

In short, the quagmire in Afghanistan could very much resemble the Iraq withdraw. The goal would still be to achieve a long-term security deal that ensures the aptitude of Karzai’s government and the safety of Afghanistan’s population. A ‘zero option’ scenario, however, involves a speedier troop withdraw from the state and a failure to leave any residual forces behind. While President Obama has not made the decision to enact this Plan B of sorts and is downplaying its implementation, the fact that its existence has come to light speaks volumes about the President’s relationship with Mr. Karzai. In addition, these ‘zero option’ considerations provide an opportunity for the United States to reflect on its larger responsibilities to Afghanistan.

Whether uttered as a punch line during debate or read in a widely revered textbook, many people are aware of the American involvement during the Soviet-Afghan War, which occurred between 1979 and 1989. As the United States poured its funding and support into the Mujahideen, a supposedly pro-Western cohort, the Red Army eventually found itself in a Vietnam-like plot and withdrew from the country. Fewer people remember that with the Red Army so too went the United States. The U.S. left Afghanistan in chaos and civil war, eventually leading to the Taliban’s rise in 1996. Returning in 2001 with a multilateral force, the United States extinguished the Taliban’s tyrannical and totalitarian rule.

Today, after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, the United States must once again gauge its responsibility to the state. Historical awareness should be enough to compel anyone to recognize that America does in fact have a responsibility for Afghanistan. After leaving Afghanistan in shambles during the 1990s and involving the state in war over the last twelve years, right or wrong, regardless of one’s political leaning, the U.S. cannot simply shrug. At the same time, the American military is coming home from Afghanistan. Whether or not the ‘zero option’ is enacted, U.S. troops will not have a serious combat role in Afghanistan come 2015. Meanwhile, the Taliban is likely waiting until the last American troop exits before conducting its inaugural celebrations.

Unfortunately for United States politicians and diplomats, a simple solution to the Afghanistan problem has been in plain sight for quite some time. Even more hapless, the solution involves a long-tabooed political subject. Namely, the War on Drugs. An underreported fact about Afghanistan’s economy is its singular dimension. Opium is practically the only crop in Afghanistan, and the Taliban, along with similar gangsters, have had a monopoly over the product for years. The United States, for its part, has effectively pretended that opium does not exist in Afghanistan.

Although the international effort to squash the illegal drug trade has been somewhat increased, Afghanistan still flourishes as the top Opium producer. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan produced 74% of the world’s Opium in 2012. From the Opium poppy fields, the crop is manipulated into heroin before heading in large part to Iran. Once there, minute sections of the Iranian market imbibe the drug as it is further shipped to Turkey, which is actually from where the United States buys most of its Opium (through legal and illegal channels.) After all, Opium is an important ingredient in legitimate painkillers.

As the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan, a needlessly painful monopoly over the country’s only crop will be left in tact. Unlike in 2001, the solution to this problem does not require a military presence. The United States might just strike an agreement with Afghanistan similar to the previously arranged Turkish agreement. Furthermore, that trade agreement could involve conditions relating to the Karzai administration’s treatment of the Afghan people. With that arrangement, black market monopolies would lose incentive and standing. Is there anyone in Washington who would oppose the Taliban’s going out of business? Of course crime in Afghanistan might not disappear overnight, but it would certainly be progress of a kind.

Over the course of the past few years, reporting on Afghanistan has disseminated an array of bad options to the American public concerning the United States. On the one hand, we can stay and fight until peace is achieved. On the other hand, we can ‘cut and run,’ leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban. Lost in that doleful portrait are two stark realities. First, the United States, for better or worse, has a responsibility to Afghanistan. Second, an opportunity for social and economic transformation is present in Afghanistan through its only crop. It seems as though the U.S. would grant thugs a monopoly over Opium before admitting the War on Drugs may have been launched in error. Going forward, it would behoove the current administration to employ a more creative imagination than that.