There's been plenty of commentary about Monday's front-page New York Times story (6/14/10) announcing, "U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan."
Reporter James Risen's lead:
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan War itself, according to senior American government officials.
Why this story appeared now was a question on a lot of people's minds, especially considering how Risen explained its timing:
American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan. The American-led offensive in Marja in southern Afghanistan has achieved only limited gains. Meanwhile, charges of corruption and favoritism continue to plague the Karzai government, and Mr. Karzai seems increasingly embittered toward the White House.
So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan.
Risen hasn't taken kindly to the criticism, as Yahoo! News reporter John Cook found out when he tried to interview him. Risen snapped at Cook:
The thing that amazes me is that the blogosphere thinks they can deconstruct other people's stories…. Do you even know anything about me? Maybe you were still in school when I broke the NSA story, I don't know. It was back when you were in kindergarten, I think.
Risen apologized for his outburst, explaining that he "didn't sleep well last night," thanks to all the criticism.
So what does the story mean, exactly? Some of the sleep-depriving commentary added some helpful context:
–The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder noted that Afghanistan's potential mineral wealth has been known for some time: "The story is accurate, but the news is not that new." He wondered if the story was really "a broad and deliberate information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of the war."
–Paul Jay also commented on the fact that this was already known, and that the Times should have raised questions about a possible connection to the U.S. troop surge:
The problem is, what the NYT describes as "beyond any previously known reserves" and "the previously unknown deposits" were in fact quite well known–in 2007, well before President Obama made the fateful decision to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.
It would be useful to note that this is a gross number, it does not subtract the cost of extracting the minerals nor does it consider that these resources would likely be extracted over many decades.