The Power of Buried Treasure
By now perhaps you’ve heard this intriguing news:
Geologists have known for decades that Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth, but a U.S. Department of Defense briefing this week put a startling price tag on the country’s reserves of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other prized minerals: at least $908 billion.
If impoverished Afghanistan is seen as having a bright economic future, that could help foreign governments persuade their war-fatigued publics that securing the country is worth the fight and loss of troops. It also could give Afghans hope, U.S. officials say.
Generally speaking, such a possibility could yield two results: residents of the country could see it as a golden ring for which to reach through an end to in-fighting and cooperation with foreign nations and companies capable of teaching Afghanistan to capitalize on its resources, or influential native forces could decide that they’ll increase their take if they pursue the sort of tribal dominance that has characterized the region’s society.
Which result obtains will probably have more to do with the people of that country than those leading our own, but it seems to me that this sort of approach will squander whatever influence we have:
The Obama administration reaffirmed Sunday that it will begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next summer, despite reservations among top generals that absolute deadlines are a mistake.
President Barack Obama’s chief of staff said an announced plan to begin bringing forces home in July 2011 still holds.
If the message from our government is that we will stay in Afghanistan until the society is secure and leaders are working comfortably with the West &151; even (maybe especially) if the perception is that we’re after the buried treasure — then terrorists and warlords perpetuating disruption will have reason to calculate a benefit to themselves if they cooperate, rather than face extinction at our hands. If the message from our government is that we really don’t want to be there and will jump at politically sufficient excuses to flee, then the disruptive forces in Afghanistan will be more likely to look for strategies (and foreign allies) who will help them take control and then exploit the resources for themselves.