Others have already reflected on the fact that this news doesn't exactly qualify as an unvarnished good: for one, it takes a lot of money and time to extract these resources, perhaps more money than you'd get from the sale of them. And on top of that, it's not like resource-rich and politically-poor countries have a really good track record with stability and nonviolence.
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.
The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists.
The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.
While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.
“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”
But the Pollyanna-ish suggestion that speculative, hypothetical mineral wealth will (/could) solve all of Afghanistan's problems isn't really what bothers me about all of this. What's most annoying is that this is exactly the sort of story we should've predicted back in the winter, not long after the President made the silly but politically essential decision to sell his "Afghan surge" decision to a reluctant majority by promising a totally unrealistic departure deadline.
Mark Ambinder and Blake Hounshell each speak to this point (to a greater and lesser degree, respectively): Hounshell says he's "skeptical of the timing of this story, given the bad news cycle," while Ambinder writes that "[t]he way in which the story was presented... suggest[s] a broad and deliberate information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of the war." I'm inclined to agree with this latter characterization.
There's not a single serious person who thought that the July 2011 deadline to begin bringing troops home from Afghanistan was anything but a political determination; the administration can make noises about how it was essential to convince the Afghan government that it could not rely on American benificence forever and must take the lead in providing security for its own country, but no one buys it. (Check out the video from this panel at last week's CNAS Conference: from Barno to Crocker to Pillar to Tellis to Fontaine, not a single one of the speakers thinks that the deadline is realistic or operationally useful.)
And so the timing of all of this seems, as Ambinder wrote, to "engender some fairly acute skepticism." After all, Amb. Ryan Crocker's entire presentation at CNAS revolved around the assumption, the prerequisite, that for the next president to begin his term facing anything but certain disaster in Afghanistan, this administration will have to find a way to "finesse that July 2011 deadline." While progress in Afghan governance and security is obviously important to anyone's definition of "success" in that campaign, the one absolutely essential front in this war is the domestic political one. As Crocker said, the president needs to find a way to put more time on the DC clock, because the Afghanistan one ain't speeding up.
Which, when it comes right down to it, is some serious bullshit.
We all knew this war wouldn't be won in 18 months, even back in December. We all knew that to begin withdrawing troops at that point would imperil the entire effort, whatever we think about the necessity of the war or our broader chances of success. We all knew the president was bullshitting us then because Generals Petraeus and McChrystal convinced him that they could get enough done to change the optics of the war in that 18-month period, just like a gambler looking for one more bet on credit, certain he can't lose this cash that he doesn't have.
So now we're finessing that deadline, putting time on that DC clock, pushing stories that make another two or three or eight or 15 years in Afghanistan seem like steps towards the pot of lithium gold rather than a tragic extension of what has become a senseless waste of lives and money.
Almost makes you embarrassed for your government, if only for being so ham-handed.
The way in which the story was presented -- the on-the-record quotations from the Commander in Chief of CENTCOM, no less -- and the weird promotion of a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense to Undersecretary of Defense suggests a broad and deliberate information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of the war.
Six months after President Obama decided to send more forces to Afghanistan, the halting progress in the war has crystallized longstanding tensions within the government over the viability of his plan to turn around the country and begin pulling out by July 2011.
Within the administration, the troubles in clearing out the Taliban from a second-tier region and the elusive loyalties of the Afghan president have prompted anxious discussions about whether the policy can work on the timetable the president has set. Even before the recent setbacks, the military was highly skeptical of setting a date to start withdrawing, but Mr. Obama insisted on it as a way to bring to conclusion a war now in its ninth year.
For now, the White House has decided to wait until a review, already scheduled for December, to assess whether the target date can still work. But officials are emphasizing that the July 2011 withdrawal start will be based on conditions in the country, and that the president has yet to decide how quickly troops will be pulled out.
Even if some troops do begin coming home then, the officials said that it may be a small number at first. Given that he has tripled the overall force since taking office, Mr. Obama could still end his term with more forces in Afghanistan than when he began it.