Thursday, July 15, 2010

Just Trust Him

If there were a contest for the least trustworthy people on earth, Afghans would be front-runners for the trophy. They’ve been picking the pockets of visitors to their land for centuries, from assessing outrageous fees on merchant caravans to today’s sophisticated raids on the U.S. Treasury.

President Hamid Karzai, that pillar of integrity, appears to have his eye on a special place in the history of Afghan duplicity. He currently is devoting some of his American-backed energy to one of the great con jobs of all time in his part of the world.

On June 14, someone (Karzai or associates?) motivated General David Petraeus into making major media comments about the “discovery” of $1 trillion in valuable mineral deposits in Afghanistan. Petraeus said the find has “stunning potential.”

A lot of Americans, including me, consider General Petraeus trustworthy. He is viewed by many as a military hero for conceiving and carrying out the troop surge in Iraq. Many believe his leadership was a major force in improving the situation there.

But Petraeus doesn’t wear a geology service ribbon. He got conned. Minerals experts have known for years that valuable deposits are present under Afghan soil. Remoteness, difficult terrain, poor transportation networks, and constant warfare are what prevent their extraction, not a lack of knowledge that they are there. And much has been known about precise locations for a very long time.

Within days of the “discovery’ announcement, Karzai popped up in Tokyo. He told Japanese government officials they would get priority in developing a huge Afghan mineral extraction and processing industry. The reason? Japan has been second only to the U.S. in pumping dollars into Afghanistan—about $5 billion so far. He didn’t say anything about an American priority. The Japanese haven’t contributed lives as we and others have, which tells us something about Karzai’s values.

What message does Karzai’s Tokyo statement send to capitals around the globe? Send cash, or increase your contribution to what already is being extorted, and you’ll move up on the mineral rewards list.

The best Afghanistan position for America to be in is out of there.

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