The spectacle presented the world by the elected American government’s inability to deal with how the national debt is to be paid and the budget set, with its commercial exploitation by rating company Standard & Poor’s, is widely considered abroad (and not only by China’s propagandists) as a devastating blow to the reputation of the United States.

It has demonstrated that the Republican opposition is riddled (perforated, like a sieve, according to the dictionary) with ignorance, irresponsibility, and half-baked and demagogic ideas, and the nation’s president has been revealed as ominously ineffectual.

Barack Obama had a magnificent hand to play: to save the nation from the gigantic debt to China that his Republican predecessor had left to the nation, spun from Republican gifts to the rich, tax-evading American corporations that have exported the national economy’s jobs, and the reckless wars that two Republican administrations created and were incapable of either winning or ending.

President Obama is a strange man whose sincere desire to restore cooperation and civility to government is admirable, but for nearly three years has been unreciprocated. Despite that, he seems unwilling to be president. What a contrast he makes to George W. Bush, in his boots and with his swagger — the Decider who promised “to create chaos, to create a vacuum” in every corner of the world if that were necessary to save America from the mortal threat he saw everywhere, and ruthlessly started out keeping that promise. He left Obama with the wreckage.

Obama promised to end the debacle in Iraq but has not done so, and has left it to the Pentagon to bargain amid the ruins to keep American military or mercenary forces there indefinitely so as to secure its oil and “protect” it from Iran, which thanks to the devastated Iraq’s vulnerability already is in a position to indirectly control it. Iran can leave the United States to police domestic order in Iraq as long as that is convenient to the leading Shiite forces in Iraq, and to Israel. It saves trouble and money all around — except for the American taxpayer (which is to say, those Americans constrained actually to pay taxes, such as Warren Buffett’s secretary, who, as Buffett has explained to us, pays at a higher tax rate than the financier does himself.)

As a candidate, Obama promised to end the war in Iraq and fight and win the “real war” — in Afghanistan. Early in his presidency he respectfully sought and accepted the Pentagon commanders’ plan for accomplishing this, as presented by Gen. David Petraeus. He elicited from Petraeus the assurance that the plan would be carried out as scheduled, a schedule which, of course, has run out, without comment from the president, who instead has promoted the general to head the CIA. This is a promotion that Petraeus enthusiasts believe brings the general closer to the position they seek for him, the presidency itself. One might think that careers are built in Washington by successful accomplishment of assigned missions, but for some time this has not been the case.

The latest and most sobering report from Afghanistan (from which Petraeus as well as his predecessor, Stanley McChrystal, have prudently removed themselves, willingly or otherwise) is supplied by a New York Times report (in the International Herald Tribune of Aug. 9) offering background on the successful attack by the Taliban on an American military helicopter Saturday, killing 38 Americans and Afghans.

The report, by Alissa J. Rubin, calls this evidence of the “harsh reality that even now, at the height of the NATO troop presence and not far from the Afghan capital, large stretches of the country are perilous and heavily infiltrated by insurgents.” Logar and Wardak provinces, gateways to Kabul, “have become more insecure even as NATO has stepped up its troop numbers nationwide.” Local officials, the report says, now frequently consider it too dangerous to attend provincial council meetings, as the Taliban set up roadblocks and control the main road.

The war in Afghanistan is lost or being lost. U.S. military officials obviously will not tell this to the president, nor even, one supposes, admit it to themselves. The decision to leave must be taken. A president is elected to take decisions. George W. Bush knew that.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at

© 2011 Tribune Media Services Inc.


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