I told a friend the news that the U.S. has discovered vast mineral wealth in Afghanistan. She said sarcastically, “Oh great, now we get to ‘Avatar’ those people” — by which she meant that the U.S. stands to economically colonize Afghanistan, like the earth people did to the N’avi in “Avatar.”
I don’t think that’s the danger here. Rather, I think that this means US troops will be permanently stationed in Afghanistan, protecting US access to those mineral deposits. It is to be hoped that the money to come will help Afghanistan stabilize itself. I am skeptical, though. There’s this comment from the Times story:

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

Yeah, that’s just what we need: another hyper-wealthy Islamic extremist state with the financial resources to export its radical interpretation of Islam. There may be a realist case for keeping US troops in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from gaining control of the mineral wealth and using it to export radical Islam.
Whatever the truth, I am very sorry these resources were discovered in that cursed country. It’s going to mean no end of trouble. I expect that I’ll live to see Chinese soldiers in the Middle East.
UPDATE: It might be helpful to take a look at this Robert Baer piece from The Atlantic several years ago, for a mention of how oil and oil wealth thoroughly corrupted Saudi Arabia. Excerpt:

Saudi Arabia operates the world’s most advanced welfare state, a kind of anti-Marxian non-workers’ paradise. Saudis get free health care and interest-free home and business loans. College education is free within the kingdom, and heavily subsidized for those who study abroad. In one of the world’s driest spots water is almost free. Electricity, domestic air travel, gasoline, and telephone service are available at far below cost. Many of the kingdom’s best and brightest–the most well-educated and, in theory, the best prepared for the work world–have little motivation to do any work at all.
About a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s population, and more than a third of all residents aged fifteen to sixty-four, are foreign nationals, allowed into the kingdom to do the dirty work in the oil fields and to provide domestic help, but also to program the computers and manage the refineries. Seventy percent of all jobs in Saudi Arabia–and close to 90 percent of all private-sector jobs–are filled by foreigners.

Oil was discovered in the primitive desert kingdom in the 1930s. One thing the Saudis had going for them that the Afghanis don’t is political unity, which had been accomplished and imposed by Ibn Saud and his son Abdul Aziz just prior to the discovery of oil.
UPDATE.2: Blake Hounsell is highly suspicious of the timing of this announcement, seeing it as not-new news released to shore up support for the failing US mission in Afghanistan.

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