The enemy in Afghanistan knows this. The savvy and sinister Taliban just targeted the French contingent. It figured the loss of 10 French soldiers might have a greater demoralizing effect on French public opinion than Verdun did in 1916, when France suffered nearly a half-million casualties in heroically stopping the German advance. But 90 years ago, France kept on fighting to win a war. Now, the French parliament may meet to discuss withdrawal altogether.
There is much talk that had Georgia been a NATO member, Russia might not have attacked it. The truth is far worse. Even if Georgia had belonged to NATO, no European armed forces would have been willing to die for Tbilisi. Remember the furor in 2003 when some NATO countries -- angry at the United States -- tried to block support to member Turkey should Saddam's Iraq have retaliated against Ankara for the American invasion to remove him.
The well-intended but ossified alliance keeps offering promises to new members that are weaker, poorer and in more dangerous and distant places, but its old smug founding states are ever more unlikely to honor them.
In the last two decades, the safety of a rich Western Europe also spawned a new continental creed of secularism, socialism and anti-Americanism that embraced the untruth that the United Nations kept the peace while the United States endangered it. But if a disarmed continent counted on continued expensive American protection, then it was suicidal to mock its protector.
If NATO dissolves, Europe will at least receive a much-needed reality check. It might even re-learn to invest in its own defense. European relations with America would be more grounded in reality, and the United States could still forge individual ties with countries that wished to be true partners, not loud caricatures of allies.
That stately Santa Rosa orchard? When it finally was toppled, uprooted and cut up, we all nearly wept -- but my grandfather had new varieties of plum trees planted in its place by the next spring.