At a July 19 meeting in the situation room with his military advisers, President Donald Trump reportedly said he wanted to fire the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson. He was dissatisfied with him because he was not winning the war and, officials said, Trump openly questioned the quality of the advice he was receiving.
It is noteworthy that the famously impatient Trump, who promised his supporters quick action on almost every front including America’s wars, is frustrated that he has not been able to turn the tide on the country’s longest-ever conflict in a little more than half a year.
But even more interesting is his candor regarding a long-taboo subject: motives for invasions that are routinely painted publicly as motivated by “national security.”
At the meeting, Trump asked about the United States “getting a piece of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.”
And he made it clear that he is not happy American troops are fighting the war while China makes money off Afghanistan’s estimated $1 trillion in rare minerals, officials said. Trump is also getting increasingly impatient with the progress his advisers are making in finding ways American businesses can get rights to those minerals.
The NBC reporters noted “The focus on the minerals was reminiscent of Trump’s comments early into his presidency when he lamented that the US didn’t take Iraq’s oil when the majority of forces departed the country in 2011.”
NBC’s military adviser General Barry McCaffrey pointed out that acquiring mineral rights in Afghanistan would require the type of security the US has been unable to achieve. Will Blackwater International’s founder Erik Prince and the CIA provide that security? As The New York Times reports,
“Worried that Mr. Trump will be locked into policies that did not work for the last two presidents, Mr. Bannon and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have brought in outside voices, including Mr. Feinberg [Stephen K. Feinberg] and Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater International. Both have urged using more private contractors and giving the C.I.A. an oversight role in the conflict.”
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of key Trump-supporting counties found that 46% of respondents would send more troops to Afghanistan, while 39% were opposed to it.
WhoWhatWhy has long raised the role that treasure plays in the foreign policy of all countries, and certainly that of the US, and has noted the failure of both the media and politicians of all stripes to level with the public.
Here is an article we ran years ago about Afghanistan and its mineral wealth. It has never been as relevant as now.
Recently, we ran video of a little-known 2007 talk by General Wesley Clark (Ret.). It was, to say the least, explosive. Clark said that shortly after 9/11, on a visit to the Pentagon, he was told of a memo laying out plans to use the 2001 attacks as a justification to invade seven countries in five years.
WhoWhatWhy now has an exclusive conversation with General Clark, filmed this year by our friend Mike Gray. In it, Clark explicitly lays out the central role of oil in American military strategy, and advocates for increased use of clean energy alternatives. He also says that the only way to change policy on energy and the military is for a mass public movement to stand up to the oil industry, the richest and most powerful in history. He says young people have the most to gain, and will have to take the lead.
So energy is about generating electricity. There you can move pretty quickly into solar and wind. Not only are the costs coming down through better engineering and better scientific development, but also battery technology is improving so you can store it and feed it into the power grid at the time you need it, not just when it’s generated.
But on the other hand, there is transportation fuel. And that’s mostly oil. And that’s mostly imported. And that’s what people fight wars about, mostly they don’t fight war about coal, they fight about oil.
In the summer of 1973 in Washington, I wrote three reports about the energy crisis for the Pentagon, one of which looked at the impact of being an oil-importing nation on the United Sates. And it was pretty clear even then that this would distort America’s foreign policy, spread lots of money abroad, and might ultimately require us to use U.S. troops to secure access to these energy supplies abroad.
Of course that’s exactly what happened. This led then to the creation of Al Qaeda, 9/11, our invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration decision to invade Iraq. It’s led to expenditures of a couple of trillion dollars and more, much more to follow. And we’re not done yet.
Q: What would you estimate we’re spending annually on keeping the oil pipeline open?
Wesley Clark: Well, it’s 300 billion dollars of US foreign exchange to buy the oil, another 600 billion dollars for the defense budget. Not all of that is directed toward energy but you could say that 150 billion dollars a year we’re spending on the wars is certainly about oil, directly or indirectly.
And you could probably say half of the rest of the defense budget is one way or another connected to stationing troops abroad, trying to protect access to oil, exercises, procurement of equipment. And then you could look at the bill for the Veterans Administration. So this comes out to be half a trillion dollars or more a year, is going to this. It’s been a tragic failure of policy and a failure of US leadership.
How can we replace these barrels of oil with other means of energy? The alternatives are there now, and bio fuels, compressed natural gas, electric automobiles increasingly, liquefied natural gas, coal to liquids. There’s lots of different ways to make liquid fuel.
So I think that it’s a matter of a struggle for political organizations. I think it does take the kind of movement that you’ve talked about. I think you have to mobilize young people. I think you have to, not just young people, but young people in particular. After all, they have the most to gain from the future – and the most to lose. And they need to speak up on behalf of these issues.
Because they’re going against some very, very powerful forces. Forces of big oil are the most powerful economic forces in the world. If you look at the entire wealth of mankind, the value of oil reserves in the ground is like 170 trillion dollars. It’s the most valuable commodity as currently priced in the world. You’re going against people who control those reserves. So this can only be done through a mass movement that overturns the established structure of energy markets. It can’t be done in a smooth transition.
Related front page panorama photo credit:Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Donald Trump and James Mattis (Jim Mattis / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and Afghan mine (USIP).