"Losers can't be choosers," former Pakistan ISI Chief Hamid Gul told a packed audience at last year's Al Jazeera Forum in Doha.
Gul was sharing his impression that America had essentially lost the battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan -- but that the Taliban would be 'honorable', in his words, and would allow America a graceful but loser's exit out of the country.
Bravado or not, Gul's perspective is shared by many in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A "stalemate", the current messy equilibrium between the Taliban and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, translates to those on the ground here as American failure.
And on the flip side of less faith in -- and less fear of -- an America in decline, is greater solicitation of China.