*The United States military is not going to leave Afghanistan for at least ten years. After having discovered a reservoir of minerals, most notably lithium, beneath the soil of the mountainous country there are very few realistic scenarios in which the United States will leave this treasure trove to be utilized by Afghans alone.

Trevor Brookins

The first aspect of this situation that must be investigated is the question of why this discovery was made. What aspect of the American military operation required drilling to the extent that valuable minerals could be found? The fact that these minerals were found is itself reason to believe that the United States is advancing interests other than its military operation.

The second aspect is the long term outlook for Afghanistan. As we are seeing in Iraq deposing one leadership group and installing another or creating a democratically based government is not an easy or quick task. Such a transformation takes place over generations. Even in the face of such a reality, the United States will take on such a lengthy project because 1 – it will not want the Taliban to reap the benefits of the mineral treasure, which could then be used to finance more attacks on American citizens around the world. 2 – even if the Taliban does not remain in power, the United States will want the replacement government to be much more pro-American because 3 – the United States will want American mining businesses to be dominant in the country. The United States is developed nation with the most presence in Afghanistan and so has the most access to the mountains. To maintain this logistical advantage and to access the minerals, and to manufacture these natural resources to modern products will take a friendly government.

But the third aspect of this is that we’ve seen this before. During the nineteenth century the United States discovered gold and silver in various locations on the North American continent. In the Dakota Territory the silver was discovered in a place that was nominally controlled by a Native American tribe. Nevertheless the United States disregarded any agreements it had with the tribe to gain control of the silver and used the precious metal to advance its monetary and business interests. What in the nature of the United States or the American people has changed over the last 100+ years that suggests the outcome in this situation will be any different?

The United States military is not going to leave Afghanistan for at least ten years. But even then it will leave behind American corporations. The scales have officially been tipped in that the United States has more to gain long term with the natural resources and their potential uses than it does to lose with the loss of American life in the current military conflict.

There are two caveats however. First, a ten year estimate assumes that all goes well in restructuring the Afghan government. Any resistance to American efforts could significantly slow the process of establishing a pro-American leadership group. Second, propping up a pro American government and supporting its economy through the activity of American business will inevitably make nearby nations jealous and make Afghanistan a target. In which case the American military will be back in the region and we’ll be revisiting the merits of foreign military action. The only real question is whether the lithium is worth the trouble.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called This Seems Familiar.  You can reach him at [email protected]