Looks like the United States won’t be freed anytime soon from the burdensome role its troops have played — largely by default — as Europe and others turn to for emergency military help.

In 2002, now-ex-Pentagon chief Don Rumsfeld proposed the establishment of a NATO “rapid-reaction force” that could be quickly deployed to the Balkans or any other regional hot spot to serve as peacekeepers to quell violence before it spreads or respond fast to terrorist attacks.

The 26 countries that make up the alliance were enthusiastic at first, viewing this as a way to boost their own prestige and to diminish the footprint of America on their turf.

But NATO is now about to kill the fast-reaction program, saying member nations aren’t anteing up the money or troops needed. Look for the Bush administration to warn its fellow NATO states that the United States won’t be there to bail them out the next time a crisis breaks.

Now it’s poker players who are getting into the congressional lobbying game. Next week, nearly 100 members of the Poker Players Alliance will mass on Capitol Hill to press lawmakers not to outlaw online poker playing. Last year, Congress passed an anti-Internet gambling measure, and federal regulators are now assembling the rules to put the law into effect. The House Judiciary and Financial Services committees also have e-gambling on their agendas.

Former Sen. Al D’Amato, R-N.Y., leads the alliance, which claims more than 800,000 members. He and some of the best-known U.S. poker players will tell Congress that their game is one of skill, not luck, and should be allowed to be legally played on the Internet.

Quietly tucked into the emergency supplemental bill that is supposed to be used to supply and support U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are billions of dollars that will go to build more C-17 transport planes that the Air Force says it doesn’t really need.

As many as 10 of the $250 million air lifters are expected to be funded, which will greatly please assorted lawmakers who see the planes as mighty piles of pork for their districts.

The Marine Corps has another victory to crow about now that its recruiting slogan — “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” — has been awarded a spot on the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame. It beat out such other catchy phrases as Nike’s “Just Do It,” the California milk board’s “Got Milk?” and Burger King’s “Have It Your Way.”

Southwest Airlines also snagged a spot of honor this year for its “Ding! You’re Now Free To Move About the Country.”

It might be wise to keep an eye on the sky as more unmanned aircraft take flight around the country. The National Transportation Safety Board used its first report on a drone accident to sound a high-volume alarm Oct. 16 about the dangers these planes-of-the-future bring with them.

The board came up with an astonishing 22 safety recommendations in its analysis of the April 2006 crash of a Predator B aircraft on a border-surveillance mission near Nogales, Ariz., which it ruled was largely the result of “pilot” error by those controlling the spy plane from the ground.

Among other things, the board said there must be certification standards and testing for drone pilots, mandatory reporting of malfunctions and safety problems, backups for pilots, and, most important, a way to make sure unmanned planes and ones with people aboard don’t collide. As it is now, none of these safeguards exist.

(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanL(at)shns.com.)