Columns: Chasing fool's gold in Afghanistan
AUSTIN, Texas -- Here's some free advice: Never buy shares in a goldmine from a guy operating out of a house trailer.
Likewise, never buy a story from the Pentagon about an incredible discovery of gold in Afghanistan.
From out of nowhere, a recent news report excitedly tells us that a Pentagon taskforce has discovered an astonishing trillion dollars' worth of untapped mineral deposits in that war-ravaged, impoverished country. Gold! Copper! Iron! And more!
"An economic boon is seen," declares a newspaper headline. "There is stunning potential here," exclaimed Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander of America's war operations in Afghanistan.
Hmmm... not so fast, Slick. Isn't it at least curious that this "discovery" comes when the war is going so badly for us and both the public and Congress are questioning why we're there? Suddenly, the Pentagon gives us a trillion reasons to keep spending American lives and tax dollars: There's money in them thar hills.
Unmentioned in the Pentagon's economic assessment is the fact that Afghans have known about these mineral deposits for centuries and have long been mining many of them, albeit on a small scale. The Soviets even mapped the extensive deposits in the 1980s during their occupation of Afghanistan, and our own geologists have known about the mining potential at least since 2004.
Still, even if the Pentagon has hyped up this story to prolong America's commitment to the war, it actually could have the opposite effect. We've been told again and again how poor that nation is, with a total GDP of only $12 billion and its chief product being opium, so our commitment of 90,000 troops is essential to help impoverished Afghans building a modern economy and a stable government. But if they're now a fabulously wealthy nation, they don't need us. So . ..let's leave.