“Great nations do not fight endless wars.”

If there’s one sentence that might endure from President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, that’s the one. It is a straightforward rebuke to the purveyors of the conventional wisdom in Washington, the sort of folks who imagine that earlier empires showed their greatness rather than their senescence by refusing ever to let go, and who like to quote Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem without understanding what it actually prophesies.

I cite Kipling primarily because of Washington Post columnist Max Boot, who took the title of one of his most successful books from a line from that poem, and whose recent and instantly-infamous column explicitly called for America to stop worrying about winning and prepare to police the Middle East for decades or even centuries. He is the most unapologetic of Washington’s neo-imperialists, and the most obvious target of Trump’s apothegm, though he has plenty of company. But I cite him as well because a proper understanding of the poet of imperialism clarifies both the true source of its appeal, and why those most under its sway are so often reluctant to admit just what that appeal is.