Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Afghan Minerals and the House of Saud Effect

The big story coming out of this weekend has been the discovery – or rather, the announcement of the discovery – of a trillion-dollar mineral resource in Afghanistan. The Obama Administration is trying to paint this as a potential game-changer and a way out of the mess. Many others are painting this as an excuse to prolong our stay – especially since one of the major mineral deposits is lithium, a critical resource in the development of energy-efficient rechargeable batteries in a post-fossil world. So, is the Obama Administration looking for a reason to stay or a reason to leave? And does it matter one way or the other for the people of Afghanistan?

Because to me, the problem I see brewing with the new mineral deposit cache is one which the Saudi Arabian people have been dealing with for nearly a century, which is that having resources in the country does not do the people any good unless the people can actually work in the jobs that those resources produce. Even in the most coopted countries, common people often do the manual labor that comes with international economic success, but this is not the case in Saudi Arabia. In that country, the Wahabi imams run the schools, which teach a strictly Koran-based syllabus. Such an education does not really help secure a job as an engineer or even as a forklift operator, since math, science or writing are not on the agenda.

The result is an angry population from which many Taliban and al-Qeada recruits are plumbed. Even without the international terrorist scene, riots and hunger are common place problems for the House of Saud. To compensate, the government creates “make busy” projects building monuments and water fountains which do nothing to enrich the people, let alone lifting them from their primary intellectual poverty.

In Afghanistan, literacy rates are around 34% for men and 10% for women. This does not bode well for the economic boon that the mineral deposits supposedly represent. Even if the Afghan government weren’t corrupt, the chances are slim that any real work can be found for the majority of Afghans. So, do we make a commitment to stay and educate a generation of Afghans? Or do we leave them to the fate the Saudi people face? Do we, in finding the exit strategy both the American and Afghan people want, end up leaving behind an even more economically-striated place than we went into?

Karzai: Playing Both Sides?

In a country like Afghanistan, where the chief export has for decades been poppies and opium, it should not be at all surprising to find that there are entrenched interests that force a president of that country to walk some fairly tight lines.  That’s especially true when the country that put said president into power hasn’t been paying much attention lately.  Still, an op-ed by a former State Department official accusing Hamid Karzai of “playing the US like a song” is bound to raise some concerns. . . if not here, than elsewhere in the world where the media pays attention.

Worth Worrying About

To the extent that Barack Obama is spreading his wings on the foreign policy front and taking the fight to John McCain, it is a good thing.  To the extent that the real mission in the Middle East should have been about Osama bin-Laden – seven freaking years ago – Obama’s insistence that Afghanistan is where we should be expending our resources is a good thing.

But any good student of history – particularly Eurasian history – knows that many a good army was brought to its knees trying to accomplish anything in Afghanistan.  Many a national economy has been brought to ruin in trying to unseat an insurgency in those impenatrable hills.  This is not an esoteric exercise in statistics, nor a historical footnote of no consequence to modern armies: no less than the Russian army has succumbed to the pitfalls in Afghanistan.  It is true that the United States funded the war in Afghanistan to harrass the Soviet Union, but money while helpful does not keep armies alive.  The unforgiving, labyrinthine mountains and caves and decades of hard fighting did that.

So, when Barack Obama says we need to leave Iraq and send more brigades to Afghanistan, I do sometimes worry if we aren’t trading one albatross for another.  It’s worth worrying about.