Conspiracy theorists have long believed that the U.S. has had an ulterior material motive for its involvement in Afghanistan, beyond the presumed security interest in denying al-Qaeda one particular safe haven. Speculation has usually focused on the country's potential strategic placement for an oil pipeline as an alternative to carrying oil through Russia. Now comes news that Americans have been actively looking for natural resources, and have apparently found them in mineral form: trillions of dollars worth of iron, copper, etc. as well as lithium and other modern essentials.
Optimists identify these resources as the root of economic development that could lift Afghanistan into modern times at last. Other experts warn that these discoveries could exacerbate the potential for civil war if the Taliban and other warlords scramble for control of resource sites despite laws that place them under central government control. Readers can infer the beginnings of an argument for continued U.S. intervention from the perceived need for guidance in exploiting the resources, the need to keep peace to ensure their orderly exploitation, and the already alleged strategic need to keep them away from the control of nearby resource-hungry China.
Are these reports part of a not-so-subtle propaganda effort to portray the Afghan Occupation as "worth it" to impatient Americans with hints that this country will benefit from the projected resource bonanza? I suppose it could be, and I also suppose that there's fair money to be made by providing Afghans with the technology to make the best use of their resources that they see fit. It'd be fair money if contracts are fairly earned in a fair process open to all comers, including China and anyone else who can offer the Afghans a deal. But if the occupation gives Americans an unfair advantage in exploiting these resources, it will at least partially confirm the assumptions of skeptics, cynics and conspiracy theorists that something other than principle or national security has kept us in Afghanistan long after bin Laden presumably left. Americans who assume that only Republicans would do such things may be in for surprises soon.