As any military historian will testify, among the most difficult of maneuvers is the strategic retreat. Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, Lee's retreat to Appomattox and MacArthur's retreat from the Yalu come to mind. The British Empire abandoned India in 1947 -- and a Muslim-Hindu bloodbath ensued.
France's departure from Indochina was ignominious, and her abandonment of hundreds of thousands of faithful Algerians to the FALN disgraceful. Few American can forget the humiliation of Saigon '75, or the boat people, or the Cambodian holocaust.
Strategic retreats that turn into routs are often the result of what Lord Salisbury called "the commonest error in politics ... sticking to the carcass of dead policies."
From 1989 to 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Empire and breakup of the U.S.S.R., America had an opportunity to lay down its global burden and become again what Jeane Kirkpatrick called "a normal country in a normal time."
We let the opportunity pass by, opting instead to use our wealth and power to convert the world to democratic capitalism. And we have reaped the reward of all the other empires that went before: A sinking currency, relative decline, universal enmity, a series of what Rudyard Kipling called "the savage wars of peace."
Yet, opportunity has come anew for America to shed its imperial burden and become again the republic of our fathers.
The chairman of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang Party has just been hosted for six days by Beijing. Commercial flights have begun between Taipei and the mainland. Is not the time ripe for America to declare our job done, that the relationship between China and Taiwan is no longer a vital interest of the United States?
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government wants a status of forces agreement with a timetable for full withdrawal of U.S. troops. Is it not time to say yes, to declare that full withdrawal is our goal as well, that the United States seeks no permanent bases in Iraq?
On July 4, Reuters, in a story headlined "Poland Rejects U.S. Missile Offer," reported from Warsaw: "Poland spurned as insufficient on Friday a U.S. offer to boost its air defenses in return for basing anti-missile interceptors on its soil. ...
"'We have not reached a satisfactory result on the issue of increasing the level of Polish security,' Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a news conference after studying the latest U.S. proposal."
Tusk is demanding that America "provide billions of dollars worth of U.S. investment to upgrade Polish air defenses in return for hosting 10 two-stage missile interceptors," said Reuters.