Finally, NATO Europe knows there is no price to pay for malingering in NATO's war in Afghanistan. Europeans know America will take up the slack and do nothing about their refusal to send combat brigades.
For Europeans had us figured out a long time ago.
They sense that we need them more than they need us.
While NATO provides Europe with a security blanket, it provides America with what she cannot live without: a mission, a cause, a meaning to life.
Were the United States, in exasperation, to tell Europe, "We are pulling out of NATO, shutting down our bases and bringing our troops home because we are weary of doing all the heavy lifting, all the fighting and dying for freedom," what would we do after we had departed and come home?
What would our foreign policy be?
What would be the need for our vaunted military-industrial complex, all those carriers, subs, tanks, and thousands of fighter planes and scores of bombers? What would happen to all the transatlantic conferences on NATO, all the think tanks here and in Europe devoted to allied security issues?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the withdrawal of the Red Army from Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union, NATO's mission was accomplished. As Sen. Richard Lugar said, NATO must "go out of area or out of business."
NATO desperately did not want to go out of business. So, NATO went out of area, into Afghanistan. Now, with victory nowhere in sight, NATO is heading home. Will it go out of business?
Not likely. Too many rice bowls depend on keeping NATO alive.
You don't give up the March of Dimes headquarters and fund-raising machinery just because Drs. Salk and Sabin found a cure for polio.
Again, one recalls, in those old World War II movies, the invariable scene where two G.I.s are smoking and talking.
"What are you gonna do, Joe, when this is all over?" one would ask.
Years ago, we had the answer.
Joe stayed in the Army. He couldn't give it up. Soldiering is all he knew. Just like Uncle Sam. We can't give up NATO because, if we do, we would no longer be the "indispensable nation," the leader of the Free World.
And, if we're not that, then who are we? And what would we do?