Monday, June 14, 2010

"The Saudi Arabia of Lithium" (II)

Much of the commentary on this find focuses on the convenient timing of the announcement (surely not an accident, after the bad news coming out of Afghanistan recently). Conor Friedersdorf's take is that we should run like hell. As he is an avowed libertarian, that's no surprise. His argument is that we'll get caught up in the corrupt process of developing these mines and be tempted to stay in Afghanistan for these resources. I'm not unsympathetic to that argument; I also think this is a reason to get the hell out. But my reason is different: now Afghanistan has the nominal ability to try to pay for its own security and government. However corrupt, I would rather Afghanistan fund and run its own government than having America funding and running much of Afghanistan's infrastructure and civil service.

When Obama announced his plan for Afghanistan, I wasn't thrilled, but just hoped it would work. I think at this point, it's not. The trick is how to get out without looking like we're leaving with our tail between our legs and letting Afghanistan fall to the Taliban. I really think that the discovery of anything that's not poppy natural resources in Afghanistan opens the door for foreign money that's not just aid to enter the country. Even taking into account the (undoubtedly huge) losses to corruption, this will actually create an economy in Afghanistan and revenue for the Karzai government. There are worries about Afghanistan morphing into an autocratic regime, funded by this natural resource revenue. Frankly, at this point, that's a better outcome than a constant war that risks destabilizing a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

If this "discovery" gives the US more freedom to get out of Afghanistan, I'm glad to see it. We're wasting billions of dollars, and the lives of thousands of bright young Americans in a war that looks increasingly hopeless. I really hope we're not on track to extend the July 2011 deadline for drawing down in Afghanistan.

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