Talk about a miracle, out of nowhere over a trillion dollars worth of minerals and raw materials are popping up all over Afghanistan. And if we believe government spokesfolk, the Pentagon has just now stumbled onto them.
There’s iron, copper, niobium, cobalt, gold, molybdenum, silver, potash, lapis lazuli and rare earth elements such as lithium without which laptops and Blackberries would be so much scrap metal.
According to Tuesday’s New York Times, these deposits could “transform Afghanistan into one of the important mining centers in the world.” And most tellingly, “…it could alter the Afghan war itself.” Of course there is one caveat to these statements. Both express the earnest faith of Pentagon officials, who “believe” this could be so, somewhere, over the rainbow.
As with any article that appears in the Times, the real story is buried 20,000 paragraphs under the lead. The Soviets figured this out in the 1980s when they conducted their own geological surveys. The surveys were discarded when the Afghans drove them out of the country. A Pentagon team looking for some sort of economic justification for our eternal war of the empty policy came across the survey and put together a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists to expand on the study. This was in 2006.
The story does point out that, “American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan,” as in they need all the good news they can get no matter how chimerical it is.
James Joyner deconstructs the hype surrounding this “breakthrough discovery.” He quotes Foreign Policy managing editor Blake Hounshell who suggests that the $1 trillion estimate was pulled out of thin air. Let’s face it, the Pentagon has a vested interest in inflating the estimate in an effort to provide a commercial rationale for the Afghan enterprise.
One commentator calls it a “massive information operation,” though it might be more accurate to call it a “disinformation” operation.
Political scientists refer to the “Resource Curse” to describe the fate of third-world countries in which large deposits of minerals are discovered. The bottom line is that the poor remain poor while the corrupt and the connected prosper. Already, there’s talk of brining in multinational mining companies to exploit these mineral deposits at pennies on the dollar.
What we have here is a feeble attempt by the Pentagon to justify its existence. A trillion dollars, that’s the new buzz word that officials hope will garner support for a dying policy. How can we leave Afghanistan with all those minerals that will lift the Afghan people out of their stone-age poverty and bring them into the modern world? It won’t happen, but that makes little differences. Justifications for war rarely have any relationship to reality.
Then, of course, there’s the threat of China muscling in and exploiting the minerals for their own selfish commercial ends. God knows they’ve been inking contracts all over Africa and the Middle East. They’ve already tied up the copper franchise in Afghanistan.
However, the Chinese have one advantage over the United States—drones and hellfire missiles are not a component of their foreign policy.
But, hey! The Pentagon says all those minerals are just begging to be developed and when has our Pentagon ever lied to us? Nothing brings democracy to a country like raw materials waiting to be exploited. We can’t leave now and leave all those minerals to a bunch of foreigners. If we found them we own them. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference who they actually belong to.