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Q. What is the new definition of "Taliban"?

A. Anyone who lives above a lithium deposit

On Monday we learned something that the Pentagon has known for years: Afghanistan is sitting on a trillion dollars worth of valuable minerals.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/world/asia/14minerals.html?ref=world

I have literally never seen a news story more interesting than this one. I barely know where to begin. For starters, why were Americans looking for mineral resources in Afghanistan in 2007? I try so hard to NOT become a conspiracy theorist, but COME ON! Give me a frickin' chance!!!

If you're wondering when the U.S. will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, you now have your answer: Never. Our worst case scenario is peace. If war ends in Afghanistan, some subset of the Taliban would eventually become fantastically wealthy with the help of foreign mining operations. Nothing good can come from Taliban billionaires. That's the strategic risk that will keep us there forever.

Of all the mineral riches that Afghanistan could have, why oh why did it have to include lithium? Just when I was getting all hopeful about electric cars, which require batteries, which will probably require lithium, we find out that lithium is located where the Taliban poop. What were the odds of that? It's like the plot of a poorly written movie. Meanwhile, the friendly Swiss are being completely useless and producing nothing but chocolate and lederhosen. I will only say this once: I CAN'T RUN MY CAR ON CHOCOLATE!

Strategy-wise, these valuable deposits in Afghanistan are a major problem for U.S. defense. It makes leaving impossible and staying even harder. Any sense of military legitimacy will soon be smothered by talk of economics. If there's one argument that you can be sure will never fly with the American voting public, it goes like this: "Those vast mineral deposits are a total coincidence."

The moral questions in Afghanistan are fascinating. If a country harbors terrorists that attack your country, creating the necessity of invasion at great expense, do you get to keep some of the minerals you find? Or is it fairer that some goat herder or war lord who happens to live above a copper deposit by pure chance gets to become a billionaire while his neighbors starve? Is it moral to establish a thoroughly corrupt Afghan government, which might be the only kind possible, and then leave? I contend that all paths are thoroughly immoral.

If every option is equally immoral, maybe the next filter should be practicality. I say we turn Afghanistan into a corporation, with all of the citizens owning equal shares after the U.S. Treasury carves out its 25% stake of preferred stock. Our military would stay there in a paid security arrangement, transitioning over time to a private operation. The corporate bylaws would require American security personnel for at least 100 years. Sort of like the Swiss Guard and the Vatican.

Afghanistan might never work as a country, but maybe it could work as a corporation. Arguably, the corporate model is what makes China work so well. The Chinese Communist Party reminds me of a corporate structure, where the CEO serves at the pleasure of the board of directors, and building wealth is the main goal. In China, the head guy doesn't have dictator powers. He serves at the pleasure of the Communist Party leaders, and he needs to perform well or they replace him. Some version of that model would probably work a lot better than democracy for Afghanistan.

Yes, I do realize that nothing I write in this blog is factually accurate or remotely practical. Thank you in advance for pointing that out.

 
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Jun 16, 2010
Good if they swap exporting opium for minerals.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
So, there's $1 Trillion in ore reserves in Afghanistan? It's not like they can get to it!

It's a fairly safe assumption that the Taliban are about as interested in mining as they are with quoting Psalms: It ain't gonna happen. Hand one a shovel. It's more likely he will club you over the head with it, instead of digging toward economic prosperity.

There has been nearly 30 years of continuous warfare in Afghanistan. Any company moving into that region to mine will probably spend a good 5-10 years just removing the unexploded ordanance. Then, they would have to set up operations and infrastructure where none exist. And in an area with an unfriendly population!

Operationally, and logistically, it would be a nightmare. Let's say you succeed in setting up, would you haul the ore out by rail? If so, you need to build a rail network. Historically, this has been impossible. Not a single rail project has succeeded in Afghanistan in 100 years. Truck convoys? A 1200 mile road network was started 6 years ago with a completion date of Dec 2009. It remains unfinished. You gotta have roads to haul the goods. A mining company would have to hire gun trucks to run with the convoys to keep them safe. Would these be military members? Or mercs? Let's not forget bribing Govt officials, as well as the local warlords -- who charge up to a 50% extortion fee -- to keep things moving. (Bad thing about bribes: They keep getting bigger.)

Anyone trying to tap the Trillion -- as it were -- better not forget the Taliban. Unless you believe that society needs to regress to the 7th Century, you are no friend of theirs. Anyone working for a mining company becomes a target. Whatever company undertakes this business, would have to house its workforce on site. And feed them onsite. They would have to provide their own power, water, sanitation, etc, since its a safe assumption this infrastructre would not exist in a nearby hamlet. This doesn't even begin to take the security aspects into consideration. It would take a small army just to secure a single site for daily operations.

For a mining enterprise to get off the ground in Afghanistan, it would take a multi-national consortium. The only stand-alone company that comes readily to mind that could probably pull it off with a U.S. Govt contract would be Halliburton, but that's only because of their mining and resource exploitation experience. Other than that -- IMHO -- it would take several nations pulling their resources to make it happen.

Would it be profitable though? I could see it as a "break-even" venture, or maybe one with slim profit potential. Considering the region, it would probably cost more to build up, transport, and secure the ore, than the actual return would be worth.
 
 
Jun 15, 2010
Whether it is the US, China or a corporate - the solution will not work if money is the only motivating force.
What the world needs is a superpower that is guided by moral principles and the desire to do some good in the world.
Too bad that the British gave up their empire, and thereby their attempts to civilise the world.
The world, and particularly Afghanistan, would indeed have been a better place if Afghanistan had been ruled by the British for the last fifty years.
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
ah yes, of course. afghanistan has lithium, so the us has no choice but to keep its military there.

makes sense.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
Hey Barney, stick to teaching the ABCs, or sewing your dinosaur costume... if you honestly think that because Joe Taxpayer has not seen one cent out of the war in Afghanistan, that this also means US interests have not made significant hand-over-fist style profits out of the whole affair, you're the one who is naive.
 
 
Jun 15, 2010
For you to imply or assume the United States would/will make a dime off of Afghanistan's mineral deposits is rather naïve. All we've really done is spend billions of dollars such that when we eventually pull out, China and others will reap the benefits of mining said materials. Not everything is a conspiracy theory, even if it looks like it...
 
 
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
It is just as well that you are 'just' a cartoonist. The German Federal President (politician of the highest rank), Mr Horst Köhler, suggested in a somewhat careless way that the German country also profits in an economic way from the war in Afghanistan. He lost his job over that:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/31/german-president-horst-kohler-quits
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
I like to imagine that something like this always starts with the best of intentions from some mid level functionary before spiraling to a tragic conclusion.

i.e. some guy in the US State Department convinces his superiors to hire a company to look for some way to diversify the Afghan economy and give them a chance. Something along these liens, "Afghanistan is exceedingly good at growing poppies to produce opium and heroin, but we need to find something else it can be good at that can actually improve their standards of living."

When the "minerals" report back to Washington people like Dick Cheney's eyes start to buldge out as the possibilities of what this can mean for America start to dance in tehir heads.
 
 
Jun 15, 2010
First thing I thought of when I read the news was that this was a ploy to trick China into taking over for us. The Chinese have been spending the past few years gobbling up every source of natural resources they can get their hands on to fuel their manufacturing machine. Now the US is pointing out a massive supply right in their own back yard (China actually shares a small border with Afghanistan). Better yet, it's free for the taking with one small catch...

They may not take the bate immediately but give them time. Even the timing is a bit suspicious given that China is probably in the process of writing their next 5 year plan for 2011-2015. Guaranteed Afghanistan is at least being discussed in those meetings. Anyone who has been following major international mining companies (Vale, RIO, BHP) knows that China does not like the amount of pricing power they have and has been searching for any amount of leverage they can get to undercut them. $1 Trillion is a lot of leverage and may be too great an opportunity for China to pass up.

China is bound to make the jump from nation to empire eventually. Why not now?
 
 
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
First, I think you're overstating the value of this deposit. According to some random guy on the Internet, "Lithium is not scarce. Currently (2007) Bolivia produces about half of the world's lithium but only because their supply is particularly easy to extract, and thus very cheap. But if Bolivia decided to start using their power to drive up prices, economically viable sources of lithium would be found in nearly every country in the world. At 5x the current price, it would be economically viable to extract lithium from seawater. Hopefully we won't have to worry about running out of seawater."

Second, apparently there are horrific environmental impacts of lithium mining. This from another anonymous Internet poster: "The environmental impact of the mining is outrageous. One of the lithium mining areas in South America is considered to have the most polluted air in the world." So maybe THIS is how we finally get the Taliban: we make their !$%*!$%*!$ country look and smell even worse, and then everybody dies of cancer.

Now THAT'S a long-term withdrawal plan for Afghanistan!
 
 
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
Clearly, we need to start reducing our dependency on foreign lithium.

Drill, baby, drill.
 
 
Jun 15, 2010
I agree, that was a great news story. Sort of like a "Red wine is actually good for you" story, only on a galactic scale. Also interesting that it shares a news cycle with "General Petraeus faints during Afghan pull-out testimony" and "Lightning destroys 62 ft Jesus".

Forget the morality issues, maybe this generation of US leaders needs to agree that trying to get oil and minerals by force is just not cost-effective.

What we need to do is work off our strengths, and Hollywood is our biggest. How about creating a high-tech theme park in the Utah desert, so awesome that it will actually attract Muslims like a second Mecca. You know -- not as good as Disney World but better than Six Flags. Pilgrims in Mecca will be walking around their sacred Kaaba whispering "This is great, but you should see the laser light show in Utah." They'll be stoning the devil but wishing they were here in a comfortable stadium chair watching "Lesser Prophets on Ice".

I certainly don't think it's out of the question that Mohammed might have traveled to Utah with Jesus . They had a lot in common, and most tours are sold as double-occupancy, even then. Let Hollywood work with the Mormons on that angle, I'm sure creative minds will prevail.

Then just sit back and watch the crowds appear. Admission: one barrel of oil or 10 lbs of lithium.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
According to the fantastic (& free) computational search engine wolframalpha.com, the GDP of Afganistan is just $12.68 Billion per year. That's pretty paltry compared to the USA's $14.26 Trillion but what's more revealing is that it was fairly steady for decades at around $3B until a little after the year 2000 when it shot up like an arrow to it's current number. Say, when did the USA start playing in that sandbox in earnest anyway?
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
Slow down, folks. The fact is that it was the Russians who discovered the deposits back when they were playing there. It wasn't until 2007 that the area in question was even partially secure enough to look at for much of anything, water, minerals, nada. As far as anyone taking over anyplace, we'd have had to get in line if it was just to take over and rip off the poor folks there. The term "occupiers" is so much more fun to throw around than some other more benign term, but I suspect that most folks on both sides of the political aisle would like to get out of there as quickly as possible.
 
 
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
i cant get through more than 2 paragraphs of your writing before my brain explodes like the Martians in mars attacks when subjected to country music.. please limit to 3 boxes, 12 on weekends.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 15, 2010
This really lends credence to the conspiracy theory that the US government was responsible for 9/11. The "attack" provided justification for the US to invade Afghanistan for the sole purpose of taking over its mineral deposits. It's frighteningly credible!

Not that I believe in conspiracy theories. Much.
 
 
Jun 15, 2010
Scott - I love your "stream of consciousness" posts. (for lack of a better term) I get the impression that you let your imagination go and muse over the idea and then share it. Perhaps not practical but maybe it is. Who knows. When someone announced Wikipedia as an idea - that had to get more poo-poos from "practical" people than any idea of yours. Maybe one day you we will see one of your ideas implemented.
 
 
 
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