Even after 20 years, the conflict that ended with the lightning Taliban takeover represents a distant blur for most Americans. Only a small sliver of the US population has a personal connection to the war through service in the all-volunteer military. Its duration through years of diminishing troop levels and casualties led much of the public to tune the story out.

Pollsters who have tracked the subject describe opinions no firmer than jello. Asked whether the American military should stay or leave, majorities say leave. Asked whether the military should leave or stay to continue counterterrorism operations, majorities say stay.

Either way, voters have not counted Afghanistan among their top-priority concerns. Survey research on foreign policy, observed Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, “is always very fluid.”

That reality means that neither side of the long-running debate on the war can unambiguously claim the upper hand in…

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