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.
Reflect if you will on what is going on here.
By bringing Poland into NATO, we agreed to defend her against the world's largest nation, Russia, with thousands of nuclear weapons. Now the Polish regime is refusing us permission to site 10 anti-missile missiles on Polish soil, unless we pay Poland billions for the privilege.
Has Uncle Sam gone senile?
No. Tusk has Sam figured out. The old boy is so desperate to continue in his Cold War role as world's Defender of Democracy he will even pay the Europeans -- to defend Europe.
Why not tell Tusk that if he wants an air defense system, he can buy it; that we Americans are no longer willing to pay Poland for the privilege of defending Poland; that the anti-missile missile deal is off. And use cancellation of the missile shield to repair relations with a far larger and more important power, Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Consider, too, the opening South Korea is giving us to end our 60-year commitment to defend her against the North. For weeks, Seoul hosted anti-American protests against a trade deal that allows U.S. beef into South Korea. Koreans say they fear mad-cow disease.
Yet, when a new deal was cut to limit imports to U.S. beef from cattle less than 30 months old, that too was rejected by the protesters. Behind the demonstrations lies a sediment of anti-Americanism.
In 2002, a Pew Research Center survey of 42 nations found 44 percent of South Koreans, second highest number of any country, holding an unfavorable view of the United States. A Korean survey put the figure at 53 percent, with 80 percent of youth holding a negative view. By 39 percent to 35 percent, South Koreans saw the United States as a greater threat than North Korea.
Can someone explain why we keep 30,000 troops on the DMZ of a nation whose people do not even like us?
The raison d'etre for NATO was the Red Army on the Elbe. It disappeared two decades ago. The Chinese army left North Korea 50 years ago. Yet NATO endures and the U.S. Army stands on the DMZ. Why?
Because, if all U.S. troops were brought home from Europe and Korea, 10,000 rice bowls would be broken. They are the rice bowls of politicians, diplomats, generals, journalists and think tanks who would all have to find another line of work.
And that is why the Empire will endure until disaster befalls it, as it did all the others.