"Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men! " In the States, the holiday season brings that all-too-familiar mantra over and over again. Too bad the verse doesn't come with some global...

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LOS ANGELES — “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men!” In the States, the holiday season brings that all-too-familiar mantra over and over again. Too bad the verse doesn’t come with some global Santa Claus enforcement mechanism to convert this fine sentiment into geopolitical reality. The incoming new year would appear to offer prospects for even less peace on Earth, while offering the likelihood of considerably more ill will toward men, not to mention women.

The outlook would perhaps be a lot more angelic if the world’s only superpower weren’t bogged down in one devil of a house-to-house, urban guerrilla war — the very kind of awful quagmire sagacious Americans had repeatedly chanted over the decades (remembering the profound pain of Vietnam) that we would never fight again because it is so inherently, fiendishly difficult to win. With even the best of intentions, it’s hard to be a leader for world peace when you’re preoccupied with such a nasty war.

And, in Asia, China — the world’s emerging superpower — isn’t exactly caroling hymns to peace these days, either. While it’s not invading anyone (unlike the U.S.), it’s not foreswearing that option, especially when it comes to the off-shore island of Taiwan.

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China will tell anyone who will listen that the best way to ensure peace across the Taiwan Strait is to bang the drums of war so loudly that the last thing the average sensible Taiwanese would want is its leaders to cry out for official independence.

In this respect, it is following in U.S. footsteps by justifying the use of force for the sake of preserving peace. The logic isn’t hard to follow, but it’s also not hard to believe that following such logic simply leads to more war.

Just look at civil-war-torn Sri Lanka. War looms again because the central government refuses to negotiate with the Tamil Tigers, without whose inclusion in the peace process more war is the only outcome. The government in Colombo would rather dominate a Sri Lanka that is in a state of near-constant strife than share power to create a state that is at permanent peace.

To be sure, Pakistan and India appear to be counter to this trend, but theirs is such a fragile suspension of war that the sincere commentator would almost rather not even mention the temporary quiet for fear of jinxing it. There is so much infernal hatred between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia that true optimism for peace would seem far more an act of faith than a reasoned hope.

Yet it’s certainly true that the world does have its share of blessing — those few who truly do show goodwill toward men. Some American and Chinese officials have gone relatively unnoticed as peace-seekers. Outgoing Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage surely deserves some kind of international award or recognition for his dogged peace-pressing work in South Asia. Too bad his betters in Washington didn’t fully realize what they had in this dedicated public servant.

Similarly, someone should offer a proper tribute to the ineffably patient Wang Yi, China’s chief negotiator in the six-party talks on Korea. This man has demonstrated the patience of a saint — a saint like Charles Kartman, in fact, who in the previous U.S. administration was, tirelessly, chief American interlocutor with North Korea.

Wang, like Kartman, somehow manages to maintain his dignity in the face of the deep-seated inherent irrationality that stubbornly stands in the way of a Korean-peninsula denuclearization and political normalization. May his fortunes with this utterly vital but interminably gnarly negotiation improve in the year ahead.

It is helpful to have the Chinese contributing more to the world than mere saber-rattling over Taiwan, energy gulping big-time to keep its economy moving forward, and arresting yet another dissident. It is unhelpful to have the United States militarily and spiritually bogged down in the unnecessary Iraq war. What a better year 2005 might have been had America stayed focused on the terror threat and not foolishly branched out into Middle East regime change.

Too bad, in fact, that there is no global Santa Claus to zoom down the chimneys of the world’s serious trouble spots. But that’s the reality as we head into another new year.

UCLA professor Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is the founder of the Asia Pacific Media Network (www.asiamedia.ucla.edu). His column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times.