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With the alleged death of Osama bin Laden, many Americans are rightly beginning to question whether or not we will now withdraw our military forces from Afghanistan. After all, bin Laden was the reason we went there in the first place, right? More out of necessity than anything else, the mainstream media and a few government officials are at least paying lip service to that possibility. From the Washington Post (h/t Susie Madrak):
The Obama administration is seeking to use the killing of Osama bin Laden to accelerate a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and hasten the end of the Afghanistan war, according to U.S. officials involved in war policy.
Administration officials think it could now be easier for the reclusive leader of the largest Taliban faction, Mohammad Omar, to break his group’s alliance with al-Qaeda, a key U.S. requirement for any peace deal. They also think that bin Laden’s death could make peace talks a more palatable outcome for Americans and insulate President Obama from criticism that his administration would be negotiating with terrorists.
“Bin Laden’s death is the beginning of the endgame in Afghanistan,” said a senior administration official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. “It changes everything.”
So does the death of Osama bin Laden change everything? Well, no, not really. As with the military misadventures of every empire in history, the American invasion of Afghanistan can be attributed entirely to economic and geopolitical reasons. Protecting “American interests,” as it is generally phrased in Washington jargon, rarely means protecting the lives and liberty of ordinary Americans. Instead, it virtually always means securing access to precious natural resources (i.e. oil) or obtaining other economic or political outcomes that are beneficial to the U.S. elite.
Aside from the obvious strategic geopolitical value of maintaining control of Afghanistan, there are two other major indications that U.S. actions in Afghanistan have not been for purposes of national security or humanitarianism. The first and most publicized (though still woefully underreported) is the proposed construction of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, which has been in planning since at least the mid-90s. The second, largely unknown indicator is Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth – more than $1 trillion, according to some estimates:
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
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.
Although oil is the most obvious natural resource and often the only one that comes to mind when discussing reasons for military intervention, it is far from the only one. Minerals such as lithium and cobalt are absolutely essential for developed nations around the globe, and a scarcity of any of these minerals would have far-reaching and drastic consequences. As China slowly rises to superpower status, it is quietly snatching up such natural resources around the globe, which presents serious long-term challenges to an American corporate elite that desires to remain the world’s preeminent power.
The United States would not have invaded Afghanistan if there were not substantial benefits to be gained from doing so. It would be utterly naive to believe that government officials would consider withdrawing now without having secured those benefits. If the U.S. seriously begins discussing the prospect of a full or partial withdrawal, it must be assumed that a shadow framework has already been established, in order to allow us continued access to Afghanistan and its immensely important resources. Any government which exists now, or will exist at the time of such a withdrawal, will necessarily be a puppet of interested U.S. parties first and foremost, with the principles of democracy taking a dramatic second – if they exist there at all.
So while I would absolutely welcome a complete and immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, I regrettably understand that such a move will most likely bring with it the negation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty, and all of the inevitable humans rights violations that puppet regimes entail.