(Note: I had this title last night, when I read the New York Times article discussed below and started to write a post… then
procrastinated until everybody else in the world had posted about it waited to consider other viewpoints. So even though Spencer Ackerman and probably others have riffed on the same obvious gag, I’m not changing it!)
In an apparent burst of nostalgia for the bad old days of the Bush-Cheney administration, when anonymous “senior administration officials” would bluff high-profile journalists for major newspapers into peddling dubious propaganda (somehow puffed up into sounding like a major scoop), the New York Times reported last night:
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
a Democratic president is now in office it’s no longer the early 2000s, even mainstream journalists have reacted to the NYT “scoop” with skepticism bordering on outright scorn. Meanwhile, among progressive bloggers, the reflexive hue-and-cry has predictably arisen: This is just a pretext to stay in Afghanistan forever to control its mineral wealth, just like we’re staying in Iraq forever to control its oil!
Which might be more persuasive were it not for the fact that we aren’t staying in Iraq forever (even as wrangling over forming a government continues, the withdrawal of U.S. troops is proceeding on schedule, with American influence fading concomitantly), and Iraqi politicians — who, unsurprisingly, covet the benefits of the country’s black gold for themselves — never have gotten around to signing over major oil fields wholesale to U.S. corporations.
Nor do I think Obama wants to stay in Afghanistan forever — certainly not long enough for him to reap the downsides of an endless, unsuccessful war while U.S. megacorporations in future decades garner the benefits. To me, the president’s seemingly contradictory announcement last December of an immediate escalation combined with a hoped-for exit timetable was clearly designed to mimic Dubya’s 2007 “surge” in Iraq… that is, not so much a plan to win the war as an attempt to postpone the inevitable while being able to say we gave it our best shot (and, perhaps, take public-relations advantage of any unexpected lucky breaks, as occurred in Iraq).
In fact, although today’s NYT story is undoubtedly propaganda of some sort, its intent may be the opposite of what everyone is assuming. Instead of providing an excuse for the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, what if it inspires other forces in the region to hasten our exit? Karzai is known to be greedy and dishonest; why would reports of vast mineral wealth encourage him to be a loyal and scrupulous American puppet rather than tempting him further to ditch his former benefactors and cut a deal with the Taliban to split the booty?
Even more intriguing is the Chinese angle acknowledged by the Times:
At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.
Anyone else get a whiff of Br’er Rabbit from that passage? “Oh, no, whatever you do, don’t push us out and entangle yourselves deeper in Afghanistan’s problems — please, anything but that, China!”
Hell, if we could get out of the business of providing armed security for Chinese-owned copper mines and lure the People’s Republic into taking our place, battling the Taliban and miscellaneous warlords for control of all those buried minerals, that would be nearly a best-case scenario at this point. (It would be even more entertaining if the reported mother lodes turned out to be illusory… hasn’t someone written a science-fiction novel or something to that effect?)
That’s my conspiracy theory, and I intend to stick with it.