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American Empire Produces 11 Global Winners -- Hint: They Aren't the Good Guys

Predicting the fortunes of Osama bin Laden, China, Pakistan and Israel.

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As a result, according to Washington pundit (and Petraeus-lover) David Ignatius, he’s making a “strategic pivot” -- a decorous phrase -- in Afghanistan.  Give him credit for daring -- or desperation.  He may be known as the progenitor of the Army’s present counterinsurgency strategy, or COIN, the man who dusted off that failed, long discarded doctrine from the Vietnam era, made it thrillingly sexy, complete with new manual, and elevated it to a central position in Army planning for years to come, but he’s not a man to let consistency stand in his way.  Seeing the need for quick signs of “progress” in Afghanistan (where the war has been going desperately badly), both for a December Obama administration policy review and to keep any U.S. troop drawdowns to a minimum in 2011, he has countermanded former war commander McChrystal’s COIN-ish attempt to radically scale back U.S. air strikes.  Instead, he’s loosed the U.S. Air Force on the Taliban, opted to try to pound them with anything available, pushed for escalation in the form of “hot pursuit” across the Pakistani border, upped Special Operations "capture or kill" raids, and generally left COIN in a ditch.  Think of his new tactics as BKJ for bomb-kill-jaw -- the jawing being about “peace talks” and aimed at influential sectors of the U.S. media, among others, part of a rising drumbeat of “progress” propaganda from the general’s headquarters.

Well-connected, savvy, and willing to shift tactics on a moment’s notice, Petraeus is a figure to contend with in Washington, our most political general since I don’t know when.  Like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, he may be playing a cagey hand to extend matters through 2012, when a president ready to fight on till hell freezes over could take office.  He’s a man on the cusp, destined for success, but only a few hops, skips, and jumps ahead of failure.

(By the way, keep an eye on another Bush-era holdover, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, if you want to gauge what Washington thinks of the war’s “progress.”  Just a month ago, he was publicly muttering about retirement early next year.  He’s not a man who will want to preside over disaster in Afghanistan.  If he does leave early in 2011, just assume that the war is headed for the toilet and, having supported his war commanders in their surge strategy through 2009 and 2010, he’s getting out while the going is still good and his reputation intact.)

Pakistan: Only recently 20% underwater, Pakistan is in a protracted military, intelligence, and policy dance with the U.S., the Afghans, the Taliban, India, and god knows who else so intricate that only a contortionist could appreciate it.  For Washington, Pakistan is an enigma curled in a conundrum wrapped in a roti and sprinkled with hot pepper.  With the Obama administration schizophrenically poised between partnership and poison -- policies of “hot pursuit” across the Pakistani border and placation, showering the Pakistani military with yet more weaponry and cutting off some units from any aid at all -- anything is possible.  Armed to the teeth, clobbered by nature, beset by fundamentalist guerrillas, surrounded by potential enemies, and unraveling, democratic and ever at the edge of military rule, Pakistan is the greatest unknown of the Greater Middle East (even if it is in South Asia).  If it’s on the cusp of hell, then, like it or not, Washington will be, too.

Israel:  The question here is straightforward enough: Just how badly can Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and his government treat the Obama administration (and the president himself) and get away with it?  Right now, the answer seems to be, as badly as it wants.  After all, Washington put almost all its global diplomatic apples in one ill-woven negotiating basket, named it making progress on a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine problem, started talks, and then offered Israel a package of goodies of a sort that would normally only be given away deep into negotiations, if at all, for nothing more than a two-month extension of the Israeli settlement-construction freeze.  The result: Israeli settlers are again building up a storm on the West Bank while the Netanyahu government plays even harder to get.  If the Obama administration can’t do better than this, then at the next TomDispatch handicapping session Israel has a reasonable shot at being elevated into the winner’s circle.  If Obama and his team ever get tired of being kicked around by Netanyahu & Co., especially with the U.S. midterms behind them, life could get tougher for Bibi.  The real question is: Can the prime minister play out this version of the game until 2012 in hopes that Obama will lose out and a new U.S. president will be ready to give away the store?

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