PARIS -- The United States has since the 1990s become increasingly the victim of an "exceptionalist" ideology that claims world leadership for the nation and an obdurate militarism, corrupting to American historical institutions and values.
Terminating the Afghanistan War, and the global projection of American military power of which it is a part, are indispensable steps to saving the nation. Those who object say that the present policy of pre-emptive wars and global strategic projection by means of worldwide military bases is essential to national security. Thus a lasting American presence in Afghanistan is held to be crucial for installing new American strongholds in proximity to China, contributing to an encirclement and system of intimidation that has begun already. If this leads to war with China, well, that will prove that the American policy preparations were justified.
NATO officials made known to allied and other ambassadors, and to the U.N. high representative in Afghanistan, the NATO alliance's program for that country after the projected handover to Afghan army and police, supposed to take place by 2014.
This is very large supposition indeed, as everyone knows. The new program will be presented at the NATO summit in Chicago in May. It is an American-written program, as the war has been American-initiated and controlled since the beginning.
The Kabul announcement fixes the cost of security forces in Afghanistan after 2014 as $4.1 billion annually.
Washington proposes to put up $2.3 billion each year, and the Afghan government supposedly will contribute $500 million annually. Other nations, without having been consulted, will be informed of what they are expected to pay. French sources say the French government learned of its assigned annual contribution of $1.3 billion only in January, from the Afghans.
One might reasonably think drafting this program a futile exercise since the French and others have already announced accelerated withdrawals of their troops, and not many people believe that the United States' own promises will be kept concerning what will happen before 2014. U.S. forces even now are unwelcome in Afghanistan, except by President Hamid Karzai -- torn between his desire to get rid of what his countrymen now see as an imposed, unsucccessful and seemingly endless American occupation, and what could happen to him if the United States should indeed pull out its troops. The United States, its forces and its drones are feared and loathed in Pakistan, our ally.
Washington does not know what to do about this, paralyzed by policy disagreement, at best, and at worst by the cowardice of politicians -- prepared to feed American troops and Afghan civilians and insurgents into the maw of destruction so long as this suits the purposes of political partisanship.
The president promised to fight this war -- "the right war" -- not knowing what he was doing; it seemed a good campaign platform plank. In office, he was -- as he should have expected -- completely at the mercy of the military. How could he, a civic organizer from the streets of Chicago and part-time law professor, with no military experience or qualifications, tell the generals what to do? They told him. He had to obey. They were totally wrong, and the war now is a disaster. David Petraeus, promoted as the military genius of his generation, has escaped to the CIA directorship. His colleagues -- and President Obama -- are left holding the empty bag.
Can the President simply leave Afghanistan, leaving the Afghans to look after their own country?
The Republican opposition and the press would disembowel him. The Pentagon would do everything in its power to make him responsible for every mistake it ever made.
The Nixon administration had the wit to get out of Vietnam before everything collapsed. It is too late to "Vietnamize" Afghanistan.
Withdrawal would cause every enemy of America in the world to cry "America Defeated!" The Republicans would cry, "Obama Surrendered!"
They would promise that Afghanistan would be overrun by the Taliban. Al-Qaida would create "nests" of terrorists all over the non-Western world, in Canada and Mexico, and in every European capital. The United States would collapse. Chinese troops would land in California. President Obama's staff would place a pistol on his desk, together with a bottle of whisky, and quietly close the door.
Consider matters in another light. There is no possibility of NATO defeating the Taliban if the government's own forces are unable or unwilling to do so. The Taliban live there.
Americans and Europeans do not. We wish the Afghans well.
Would withdrawal be victory for the Taliban? Of course. If the United States remained in Afghanistan for 100 years, and then left, this would still be called a victory for the Taliban -- and it would be. Alexander the Great and the British Empire at the peak of its power were defeated in Afghanistan, unable to impose their will.
Would the president's enemies, the Republicans and the opposition press cry, "Surrender!" and "Defeat!" Of course they would.
They will say anything, no matter what the political and human costs might be. Obama could retaliate by inviting those Americans who want to fight wars to elect the current crop of Republicans -- and take the consequences.
As departing gifts to the American people, the president might then issue executive orders disbanding the professional army, and reinstating selective service, with all sons of national politicians deemed 1-A for service (highest qualifications). History would remember him as the nation's savior.
(Visit William Pfaff's Web site for more on his latest book, "The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy" (Walker & Co., $25), at http://www.williampfaff.com.)