Afghan Bling!

Just as John McCain was telling Gen. David Petraeus how worried he is that the US is going to leave Afghanistan before “the job” is done, the General’s head dropped onto the desk in front of him: had he passed out from ennui? McCain had the same effect on the American electorate in 2008. Petraeus blamed it on not having had breakfast, but, in any case, the US government seems intent on having Afghanistan for lunch – and what a rich meal that is going to be! According to a piece by James Risen in the New York Times, there’s gold in them thar hills!

“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.”

Risen, reporting the views of US officials, goes on to write that the lode is “so big and include[s] 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 face of a nearly forgotten figure, Paul Wolfowitz, rises up from the mists of the past, promising that the oil riches of Iraq would ensure no unusual outlays from the US Treasury for postwar reconstruction:

“We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction… The oil revenues of that country [Iraq] could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. Now, there are a lot of claims on that money, but that’s – we’re not dealing with Afghanistan that’s a permanent ward of the international community. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.”

As Sarah Palin would put it: and how’s that Iraq-will-pay-for-itself idea workin’ out for ya?

Eight years later, we are dealing with Afghanistan, “a permanent ward of the international community,” i.e. a US colony, but Wolfie’s words have gone down the Memory Hole conveniently located near every neocon’s work station.

Afghanistan, says an internal Pentagon memo, could become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium” – a prospect that, if the Saudi kleptocracy is replicated on Afghan terrain, bodes ill for the people of that country. Given the truth of this alleged discovery – one that is by no means a new one, by the way – such an outcome certainly seems all too likely. A look [.pdf] at Afghanistan’s mining laws – coincidentally just recently formulated and passed – confirms this suspicion:

“Article 4: Ownership of Minerals

“(1) All naturally occurring Minerals and all Artificial Deposits of Minerals on surface or subsurface of the territory of Afghanistan or in its water courses (rivers and streams) are the exclusive property of the State.

“(2) Mineral operations shall be conducted in Afghanistan by the State. A Person can also carry out mining operations by obtaining a License or Authorization in accordance with the provisions of this Law.”

This is a perfect set-up for corruption. Licenses are granted by the Afghan Ministry of Mines, formerly headed up by Muhammad Ibrahim Adel, who was dumped by the Karzai regime after being accused by the US of accepting a $30 million bribe from the Chinese for a copper mining franchise. His crime, of course, was that he accepted a bribe from the wrong people: his successor won’t make the same mistake.

A crude analysis of the above-cited mining laws would characterize them as “socialist,” but this really qualifies as corporatism: government for the benefit of certain politically-connected corporations, i.e. the same sort of crony capitalism that currently characterizes the US economy. We’re exporting our system around the world.

Everything about the Risen piece screams government disinformation campaign. To take one example: Risen avers that this “vast” mineral wealth was just recently discovered “by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists.” As Marc Ambinder points out, however, the Soviets beat the Obama-ites to the punch by a couple of decades.

The Soviets – who were themselves on the way out, although they didn’t know it – were convinced that by “building socialism” in Afghanistan, i.e. a strong centralized state, they could exploit the country’s rich natural resources for their own benefit. In the end the costs proved too great, and the terminal crisis of the Soviet system doomed the Kremlin’s puppet government to a swift demise.

Like the Soviets, the Americans live in an ideologically constructed alternate universe – one already colliding with the reality on the ground – which doesn’t permit them to see the many reasons for their inevitable failure. The Obama-ites think that by dangling some fool’s gold in front of the American public that they can forestall growing discontent with the longest war in our history. This is what they think of us: that we’re just a bunch of greedy pigs eager to grab what we can from whomever we can. That just about sums up the guiding philosophy of the current regime.

Citing Jack Synder’s Myths of Empire, Stephen Walt, writing on his Foreign Policy blog, debunks what he calls the “el Dorado myth,” making the perfectly reasonable point that we don’t need to control territories rich in natural resources in order to make economic use of them, engage in trade, and otherwise partner with the Afghans to mutual profit:

“Because whoever is in charge is going to have to sell them to someone and won’t be able to prevent them from being sold to us (even if indirectly) if we want to buy (that’s how markets work). And if we want to make sure that U.S. companies have the opportunity to compete for the opportunity to mine these resources some day, it might be a good idea if we didn’t spend the next decade blundering around and angering the local population.”

Yes, but it matters who’s in charge. If it’s the US, acting through its Afghan sock puppet, then franchises are going to be doled out to friends of the regime. There is no market economy in an occupied country: the conqueror extracts the spoils of war, in this case from the very soil of Afghanistan, not as result of any free contract, but due to its preeminent position as the occupier. There is always a lot of window dressing to prettify this ugly reality, but in the Afghan case it doesn’t even look like the occupiers care much about appearances. As Ambinder points out, the bidding war started in 2009.

Our rulers don’t at all mind “blundering around and angering the local population,” just as long as they and their cronies reap rich rewards, however short-lived and costly their acquisition. Furthermore, they don’t want just any old companies competing for the opportunity to mine those resources some day. Not everyone is invited to the feast. The US/NATO occupiers are in a perfect position to say “I’m sorry, sir, but those tables are reserved.”

This dangling of bling is not only for the benefit of the American people, but also for the Europeans, who haven’t been all that enthusiastic [.pdf] about doing their duty on the Afghan front, at least up until now. The Obama-ites are seeking to entice them with the prospect of mineral riches down the road, but this promise is bound to be met with a high degree of skepticism. After all, Afghanistan lacks the infrastructure to bring its mineral wealth to market, quite aside from the difficulties of extracting it to begin with. If the Obama administration believes they can use the vague promise of future riches to lure the Europeans into America’s latest nation-building project, they are very wrong. Aside from overwhelming opposition to the war by European voters, Obama’s Euro-socialist friendsters are having their own problems over there – what with Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland going down the economic sinkhole – with not a lot of resources to spare.

The idea that Afghanistan is going to finance its own reconstruction on account of its mineral wealth, or that the US can derive some economic benefit from pillaging those resources, is a dangerous mix of economic ignorance and brazen militarism. In short, this is a rationale for war that fits the current gang in Washington to a tee.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].