Consider Central Asia. By pushing to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, and building air bases in nations that were republics of the Soviet Union two decades ago, the United States generated strategic blowback.
China and Russia, though natural rivals and antagonists, joined with four Central Asian nations in a Shanghai Cooperation Organization to expel U.S. military power from a region that is their backyard, but is half a world away from the United States.
Solution: The United States should inform the SCO that when the Afghan war is over we will close all U.S. military bases in Central Asia. No U.S. interest there justifies a conflict with Russia or China.
Indeed, a Russia-China clash over influence and resources in the Far East and Central Asia seems inevitable. Let us get out of the way.
But it is in Europe that America may find the greatest savings.
During the Cold War, 300,000 U.S. troops faced hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops from northern Norway to Central Germany to Turkey. But not only are there no Russian troops on the Elbe today, or surrounding West Berlin, they are gone from Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Between Russia and Poland lie Belarus and Ukraine. Moscow no longer even has a border with Turkey.
Why, when NATO Europe has two nuclear powers and more than twice the population of a Russia whose own population has shrunk by 8 million in 20 years and is scheduled to shrink by 25 million more by 2050, does Europe still need U.S. troops to defend it?
She does not. The Europeans are freeloading, as they have been for years, preserving their welfare states, skimping on defense and letting Uncle Sam carry the hod.
In the Panetta budgets, America will still invest more in defense than the next 10 nations combined and retain sufficient power to secure, with a surplus to spare, all her vital interests.
But we cannot forever be first responder for scores of nations that have nothing to do with our vital interests. As Frederick the Great observed, "He who defends everything defends nothing."