It is possible to think that the great campaign to create a new Middle East and Central Asia, defeat the Taliban, slay Islam’s violent extremists, capture or kill Osama bin Laden and build a radiant new world of democracy and capitalism may be closer to being called off than one might think.

The campaign has failed. It is not working now, but going backward, as in the case of politically chaotic and sectarian-divided Iraq, recently “liberated” by the United States at the price of more than 100,000 civilian casualties, the flight of 2 million of its people from their country, and nearly 2 million more driven out of their homes or otherwise having their lives uprooted. According to The New York Times, the forces opposing the new Nouri al-Maliki government may demand America’s total withdrawal from Iraq, abandoning what currently is supposed to be an “enduring” U.S. deployment there.

In mid-December, the Obama administration revealed the conclusions of the Afghan policy review, which was supposed to fine-tune a grand war-winning strategy in Afghanistan. They offered no fundamental change in the American program and reported that the war against the Taliban goes a little better in some respects, and rather worse in others, and that relations with Pakistan, which supports the Taliban, are bad and getting worse. A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, published almost simultaneously, said the American intelligence community is unanimously convinced that the war is being lost.

The U.S. said it will fulfill its Afghanistan troop withdrawal commitments, starting in July, thereby trying to “Vietnamize” America’s war, leaving the Afghans to look after their own country, which is what more than half the American public already wants. (Sixty percent of all Americans, according to a recent Washington Post poll, say the war is not worth fighting.) Some suggest that if the Taliban sweeps up power as the Americans leave — if they indeed leave — Washington will simply blame the Hamid Karzai government, noting its corruption and incompetence.

President Barack Obama — the foreign affairs novice who was cynically bounced into escalating this war with a troop “surge” by Gen. David Petraeus, the ambitious clique of “surge-plus-counterinsurgency” enthusiasts in the Pentagon, and the Washington foreign policy community, plus the neoconservative claque in the Washington press — could say in July that he did exactly what the supposed experts told him to do and it failed.

He did not fail. It was the policy of Petraeus, and the policy of the Washington consensus, that failed. If the president had the political nerve to do it, he might wash his hands of America’s current wars, solving the nation’s budget and national deficit problems in one fell swoop — and win the hearts, and second-term votes, of his grateful countrymen.

So satisfactory an outcome is nonetheless unlikely. The Pentagon and America’s foreign policy community are determined that the U.S. must continue its effort permanently to control the region. The democracy-building mind-set, with which all of this began during the Clinton years, confirmed after 9/11 by George W. Bush, still prevails, even in the camp of American foreign policy “realists.”

John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago has a major article in the latest issue of The National Interest magazine, which provides a lucid critique of how the U.S. got into these dangerous Asian entanglements, but ends by asserting that to assure its own security Washington must continue to possess Asian domination, blocking any rival (meaning China).

He asserts that “no American leader will accept” a Chinese effort to turn its economic power into military power in order to impose its own hegemony in Northeast Asia. Washington should adopt an “offshore” policy, he writes, that keeps American military power “over the horizon” from East Asia, but ready to intervene against China.

This seems to me to rest on highly exaggerated assumptions about China’s ambitions, and about the ease with which a Chinese economy that currently remains a satellite of the advanced European and American economies can be turned into a military giant capable of dominating Asia and challenging the U.S.

It also ignores the existence of the world’s third-largest industrial economy, that of Japan, a nation of highly advanced technology and demonstrated military capacities, should it be threatened. India is another neighbor of China’s, as is South Korea.

Finally, this supposedly “realistic” policy recommendation makes vague and controversial assumptions about the American interest in all of this. What, exactly, is China’s threat to the United States? Mearsheimer is reformulating the same policy of global domination that the American “realists” have opposed in the Middle East, Central Asia and now in Afghanistan/Pakistan. If it is a bad policy there, why is it a good policy in Northeast Asia?

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy,” at

© 2010 Tribune Media Services Inc.

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