Opinion

The Great Debate

New Afghan war over U.S. troop levels

The stubborn war in Afghanistan, which has spanned a decade and cost more than 2,000 American lives, has now faded to one key question: How many U.S. troops will remain after 2014?

This is the issue that will likely occupy President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai when they meet at the White House on Friday. Officials are already batting numbers about, ranging from zero to 20,000.

But how many Americans are still paying attention?

For many voters, and those they elect, the war is over. Only brief and irritating interruptions, like the scandal the led to the resignation of CIA director and retired General David Petraeus, serve to remind the public that the United States remains at war. In the presidential campaign, candidates in both parties mentioned the war only in passing. GOP nominee Mitt Romney didn’t even say “Afghanistan” in his convention acceptance speech, while Obama and Vice President Joe Biden referred to the war only to discuss its “responsible end.”

For those who served in Afghanistan on the diplomatic or military front and believe in continued U.S. engagement, the battle is now against an opponent for whom they have few weapons: U.S. public apathy.

And they are losing the fight.

For a long while now, the American public has stopped believing the war is worth its cost. Few in the Obama administration have mustered an argument that answers their concerns.

First 100 Days: Obama’s foreign policy challenges

Willis Sparks– Willis Sparks is a Global Macro analyst at the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group. The views expressed are his own. –

Few things in life amused my dad more than a good karate movie. I once asked what he found so funny about Bruce Lee’s jaw-dropping display of poise and power. “Nice of the bad guys to attack him one at a time,” he said. In the real world, threats don’t arrive single-file, like jets lining up for takeoff.

President Barack Obama’s toughest foreign-policy challenge will be in managing the sheer number of complex problems he’s inherited and their refusal to arrive in orderly fashion. In addition, the still-metastasizing global financial crisis will exacerbate several of these problems, by depriving a number of governments of the funding they need to maintain social stability and to meet internal and external threats to their security.

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