Sending US soldiers overseas and into harm's way naturally raises eyebrows in Congress - and doubts about American goals in distant corners of the globe. Especially in an election year.
So why are 5,900 US troops still in Kosovo, a half-formed nation that European allies could easily keep under their wing?
Congress this week challenged the president to justify the cost and necessity of continuing this dangerous deployment.
But there are two simple answers: symbolism and tripwire.
The symbolism: This minor US military presence in Kosovo is just the latest symbol of its commitment to a stable Europe, where it remains leader of the NATO alliance. As in East Asia, the US keeps a latent but potent presence in Europe that helps moderate military competition.
No one else can do it. No one benefits more from it than the US.
The tripwire: To ensure that Americans react quickly to an attack in areas it's committed to protect, the troops act as a political tripwire to ignite public sentiment back home to "defend our boys" (and now "girls") even if a conflict is controversial.
But are there limits to what the US can or should do with its forces? Some critics ask why the US defended Kosovo but not Chechnya. The UN wants the US to end wars in Africa. The GOP wants clear military support for Taiwan. Many critics want Iraq's Saddam taken out.
Each new hot spot warms up a debate in the US over its overall foreign policy. Not since the years before the cold war (1947-51) has the country been so at odds over its role in the world, not just in military deterrence but in a new role of dissuading other nations from acquiring weapons and supporting terrorism.
Congress was right to question a US role in Kosovo. This year's election campaigns need more debate on foreign policy. While defining America's reach is largely the president's role, he needs to have Americans behind him.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society