Last week’s revelation in THE New York Times that war-torn Afghanistan has nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits brought to mind similar reports in the early days of the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq.
At that time, the huge untapped oil reserves were touted by the Bush administration as a way of not only restoring Iraq’s war-torn economy, but also repaying the United States for the cost of its presence in that country beginning in 2003.
But, as a USA Today story published in May shows, American tax dollars continue to be spent by the boatload not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan as well.
Indeed, the newspaper revealed that the monthly cost of the Afghanistan war has now surpassed the cost of the Iraq incursion. In February, the Pentagon spent $6.7 billion in Afghanistan, compared with $5.5 billion in Iraq.
“As recently as fiscal year 2008, Iraq was three times as expensive; in 2009, it was twice as costly,” USA Today reported.
In the midst of a national economic recession and the growing federal budget deficit and national debt, such spending does prompt the question: When will the U.S. benefit from bringing freedom to the two countries that were once ruled by cruel dictators?
In Iraq, 2.4 million barrels of oil per day are being produced, but the goal is to increase that to more than 12 million a day. Foreign oil companies are being urged to invest.
The country has the world’s third largest proven oil reserves.
Now, we’re told, there’s so much wealth beneath the ground in Afghanistan that American officials are speculating the country could be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the Times reported.
According to an internal Pentagon memo obtained by the newspaper, Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material used in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
The fact that the story did not become a topic of 24/7 media discussion does not diminish the importance of what the Pentagon has discovered. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two months ago has taken up hourly discussion on cable television — with good reason. With millions of crude oil spewing from the disabled oil rig operated by BP, the economic and environmental devastation is plain the see.
The four Gulf states, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi are scrambling to limit the damage, but until the well is tapped, their economies, marshes, wildlife preserves and pristine beaches will continue to be destroyed.
Although BP has publicly pledged to set aside $20 billion in an account to be managed by the Obama administration for recovery efforts, the overall cost of cleaning up the environment and restoring the region’s economic health will be many more billions of dollars.
President Obama has made it clear that BP will have to bear the cost, but there will be other expenses the federal government will be expected to meet.
Having two countries being cared for by the United States with so much natural wealth makes it incumbent upon Obama to let the governments in Kabul and Baghdad know that repayment is not negotiable.
Indeed, the oil in Iraq and the vast mineral deposits in Afghanistan will not be fully explored without U.S. involvement — despite what the people of those countries may think.
As the BP oil spill has shown, the American people aren’t in a forgiving mood.