Obama gives us an Afghan escape route

President Barack Obama

President Obama has instructed his advisers to include an 'exit strategy' from Afghanistan

The phrase 'exit strategy', with its overtones of defeat, has been almost taboo in the Government's pronouncements on Afghanistan until now.

Thanks to President Obama's instructions to his advisers to include an exit strategy in the various options available, it has become possible for Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband to talk some sense, though still not enough.

The solution of handing over security to the growing Afghan national army, amid claims that we are beating back the insurgents, remains very vague.

We are not winning. Far from reducing the number of jihadists, our intervention has helped to recruit them all over the Middle East, and in our own country, too.

Moreover, we and Nato avoid the awkward question of where the loyalty of that army will lie or where it can operate in such a divided country.

Predominantly Pashtun, it will not count for much in many areas still under the control of other ethnic groups and warlords.

But this, like Brown's claims of success, is not what really matters. What he and, no doubt, President Obama are aiming at is the Nixon solution.

When Vietnam was at its worst, President Nixon made the bogus claim that the Government in the South had reached the stage where it could fight the Viet Cong without outside support.

An undignified retreat then followed. Something like this can be expected for Afghanistan - just find an excuse to leave.

Given the scale of public hostility, Labour now has a longed-for chance to steer the war issue out of the forthcoming election.

It may not be so comfortable for Obama. Whatever exit strategy he comes up with, he will face the charge from a sizeable portion of his own electorate that he is presiding over the abandonment of the U.S.'s worldwide mission - in short over the decline and fall of the American empire.

As, of course, he is. He is a man without imperial instincts who has unfortunately inherited a foreign policy based on the belief that the U.S. has the power and the reach to decide matters in all quarters of the globe.

American voters are reluctant to accept that military might and money are not what they were.

The U.S. still maintains a remarkable 700 or so bases around the world at immense cost, yet they are more likely to provide disputes than the means of settling them.

Under President George W. Bush, they were symbols of the American power to intervene.

Under Obama, it is hard to see their purpose, now that intervention has proved futile or counter-productive.

Iraq remains far from settled, Afghanistan has proved unwinnable, Pakistan slides into terrorism. The U.S. can be defied.

President Lyndon B. Johnson once observed that it was unthinkable for America to be defeated by a 'raggedy-a*** little country like Vietnam'. Now are the days of such countries, whether so charmingly described or otherwise.

The untidiness of whatever exit strategy the Nato alliance agrees on will soon become apparent.

As some of us have argued for so long, the Afghanistan venture was always doomed since the population knew that one day the troops would leave.

Better, in that case, for the ordinary Afghan to keep in with his local ethnic, religious, tribal group or warlord. We have not come far in eight years.

The decline of the American empire has been abrupt as the history of empires goes.

The U.S. emerged supremely powerful at the end of World War II, complete with its mission to save the world - so it was claimed - from the Soviets.

With no Soviet Union left to justify its global role, the so- called neo-Conservative movement took over American foreign policy with their demand for worldwide military and moral leadership.

What followed was the bloodshed of Iraq and Afghanistan, to say nothing of the horrors of the torture chambers of Guantanamo Bay.

An increasingly unstable world and a manifestly weakening America make up a formidable problem. But there is one area where U.S. imperial reach remains unabated - Israel.

Its intransigence lies at the heart of the Islamic hostility to the West, simmering and sometimes boiling over for decades.

Everybody know that Washington has the power to make Israel behave responsibly.

But each initiative to restore the 'road map' negotiations opened in 2002 - when the Arab states offered new hope - has been thwarted, almost invariably by Israel.

Constant calls, from the United Nations and the U.S. itself, that Israel should give up its illegal settlements on Palestinian soil have been met with regular promises, always abandoned later.

The madcap Israeli voting system ensures belligerent Zionists in senior government posts.

Despite which, Obama could order Israel back to the conference table with a snap of his fingers, if he had the courage.

But the Zionist lobbies in the U.S. - and not to be underestimated in the UK either - are a constant problem. You cross them at your peril.

The U.S. needs an exit strategy from its position as Israel's unquestioning supporter.

Sadly, it remains locked in, dangerously for the whole Middle East and by extension for the rest of us.