Monday, June 14, 2010


The big story right now, via James Risen of The New York Times, is that Afghanistan has vast untapped mineral wealth:

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....

The headline of Yves Smith's post at Naked Capitalism is "Does This Mean We Never Leave?" -- but come on, Yves, be serious: did you really think the Obama administration was ever going to withdraw from Afghanistan in any event? The war is going too poorly to wrap up anytime soom. The public now just numbly tolerates war as permanent background noise. The GOP and right-wing noise machine, which attack President Obama on everything from policy to putting his feet up on his desk, give him a free pass on this war (but will surely pummel him mercilessly if he dares to try to withdraw from this one as well as Iraq).

So we would have been there indefinitely anyway.

That's why I'm not clear why this story was planted by the administration now. Yes, I know it's meant to be good news about Afghanistan after a spate of bad news, as Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell notes (adding that information about this mineral wealth isn't exactly new). But who needs reassurance? Our right-wing overlords wouldn't let Obama withdraw, any more than they'll let him close Gitmo or try terror suspects in U.S. civilian courts. There's no threat on the horizon from an anti-war movement. The general public is stunned into submission.

Do the Obama people think the public will cheer this news? Ordinary Americans surely don't expect that this war will pay for itself any more than the Iraq war did via oil. The reasonable thing to expect is that either this will come to nothing or, at best, a few well-positioned opportunists (multinational corporations, warlords) will make all the money. I'm recalling Bob Herbert's column from Saturday's Times:

The U.S. doesn't win wars anymore. We just funnel the stressed and underpaid troops in and out of the combat zones, while all the while showering taxpayer billions on the contractors and giant corporations that view the horrors of war as a heaven-sent bonanza.

And today's story is:

The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

Maybe the story is a signal to the Chinese (identified by Risen as the West's big rivals for these Afghan resources) that the treasure isn't going to be ceded without a fight. Maybe it's a signal that the administration, now momentarily identified with BP-bashing, isn't really anti-corporate. Whatever's going on, the story doesn't seem intended to mollify political enemies or the public at large, unless the Obamaites are really, really tone-deaf.

If anything, this will further alienate Obama's onetime supporters from the anti-war left, just in time for 2010 -- blood-for-treasure is a recognizable narrative -- and it means Ralph Nader will have to do very little rewriting of his old campaign speeches when he runs in 2012. (An Obama defeat in 2012 isn't going to reverse this course, however -- do you really think Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin will reject the opportunity to get sanctimoniously choked up at the noble sacrifice of young men and women dying in Afghanistan for niobium?)

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