The Brits are going home.
Forty thousand marched in beside the Americans. Only 7,100 remain; 1,600 will be heading home by Easter.
By August, the Danish force of 470 is to be withdrawn, as is the tiny Lithuanian unit. South Korea has 2,200 troops in the Kurdish north. Though they rarely leave base, 1,100 are to depart by August, the rest by year's end.
The Italians are gone. The Spanish pulled out after the Madrid bombings. Ukraine's 1,600 have departed. The Japanese have gone. Declaring the war "unjust and wrong," Slovakia's new prime minister just ordered home his country's contingent of 110 engineers.
Only the Americans are going deeper in. Aussies excepted, the "coalition of the willing" is no longer willing.
In Afghanistan, Americans, and Brits, Canadians and Dutch fight, as Germans, French and Italians do "reconstruction." In World War I, France, Italy and Germany lost 4 million men. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the three together have probably not lost 50.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned Wednesday, when his plan to stay in Afghanistan and enlarge a U.S. base in Italy, lest refusal be seen as "a hostile act toward the U.S.A.," was rejected in the Senate.
Vice President Cheney hails Tony Blair's announced withdrawal of British troops as a sign of success. Yet, he says the Pelosi-Murtha plan to withdraw U.S. troops would only "validate the al-Qaida strategy."
The White House says the British pullout is an affirmation of our partnership, but the Brits could have sent those 1,600 to Baghdad or Anbar. They did not.
The Brits are leaving with mission unaccomplished. They are being shot at and mortared every day in Basra. Tribal and Shia militias have not been disarmed. The Sunni are being ethnically cleansed from the south. Militant Shia want the Brits gone, so they can take over.
The British people are bridling at the cost in blood and money of a war that destroyed Tony Blair, who is weeks away from resigning as prime minister. One British historian said at year's end he has never such levels of anti-Americanism in his country.
There is a larger meaning to all this, and Americans must come to terms with it. NATO is packing it in as a world power. NATO is little more than a U.S. guarantee to pull Europe's chestnuts out of the fire if Europeans encounter a fight they cannot handle, like an insurgency in Bosnia or Kosovo. NATO has one breadwinner, and 25 dependents.
At the end of the Cold War, internationalists like Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana declared, "NATO must go out of area, or go out of business." What Lugar meant was, with the Soviet threat lifted from Europe, NATO must shoulder more of the global burden.
But the Balkan crises of the 1990s showed that Europeans are not even up to policing their own playground. The Americans had to come in, gently push them aside and do the job. The message Europe is today sending to America, with the withdrawals from Iraq and the refusal of Italy, Germany and France to fight in Afghanistan:
"We are not going out of area again. If you Americans want to play empire, go right ahead. We will not again send our sons overseas to fight in regions of the world from which we withdrew half a century ago. You're on your own."
Where does this leave NATO? This leaves NATO as little more than a U.S. guarantee to go to war for the nations of Europe, while Europeans can be freeloading critics of U.S. policy around the world.
NATO is an expensive proposition. We maintain dozens of bases and scores of thousands of troops from Norway to the Balkans, from Spain to the Baltic republics, from the Black Sea to the Irish Sea.
What do we get for this? Why do we tax ourselves to defend rich nations who refuse to defend themselves? Is the security of Europe more important to us than to Europe?
In the early years of World Wars I and II, Europeans implored us to come save them from the Germans. We did. In the early Cold War, Europeans welcomed returning GIs who stood guard in the Fulda Gap.
Now, with the threat gone, the gratitude is gone. Now, with their welfare states eating up their wealth, their peoples aging, their cities filling up with militant migrants, they want America to continue defending them, as they sit in moral judgment on how we go about it.
This isn't an alliance. This isn't a partnership. Time to split the blanket. If they won't defend themselves, let them, as weaker nations have done to stronger states down through the ages.
Sixty years after World War II, 15 years after the Cold War, Europe's defense should become Europe's responsibility.