Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele actually said some smart things about the war in Afghanistan.
Needless to say, this has gotten him in a lot of trouble… with Republicans.
In a videotape from a Republican fund-raising event held Thursday in Connecticut, where it should be noted that hardly any of the attendees seem to be listening to him, the RNC chair says:
"The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. I think it’s a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan," Steele begins. "Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those areas [where] the total board of foreign policy [argued] that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the president who was trying to be cute by half by building a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should in Afghanistan."
Banging away at Obama, Steele argued that, "if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed, and there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan…"
The RNC chair went on at some length about how the committee’s research operations would help Republican candidates to frame this essentially antiwar argument.
Apart from the fact that George Bush and Dick Cheney laid the outlines for the Afghanistan occupation and then implemented it, apart from the fact that Republican Party leaders cheered on Obama’s escalation of the conflict, and apart from the fact that the primary support for maintaining a massive and open-ended occupation in Congress is coming from GOP members—two-thirds of Democrats in the House voted Thursday for amendments to a supplemental funding bill that called for development of an exit strategy—Steele’s argument is sound.
Students of history have, indeed, argued that the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan.
Every country that has tried over the past thousand years of history—including, most recently, the British Empire and the Soviet Union—has failed to successfully occupy Afghanistan.
Military strategists and international development specialists, as well as honest players in Afghanistan’s political class, have long argued that there are other ways to engage with Afghanistan.
As a candidate, Obama was being "too cute by half" when he framed the fantasy that Iraq was a bad war while Afghanistan was a good one.
And, while Bush may have created the mess, it can reasonably be argued that the current president’s moves to expand the occupation—with a troop surge and substantial increases in military spending on a mission that can’t seem to get traction—have made the current character of the conflict "a war of Obama’s choosing."
Unfortunately for Steele, it is also a war of the neoconservative elite’s choosing, and that elite still holds a lot of sway within the Republican Party and on its pundit periphery.
So it should come as little surprise that one of the first calls for Steele’s resignation as RNC chair came from the dark knight of the neo-con right, former Dan Quayle aide William Kristol.
Opperating in his usual role at the GOP’s foreign-policy police chief, the Weekly Standard editor issued a "cease and desist" order Friday morning, in the form of a letter that read:
You are, I know, a patriot. So I ask you to consider, over this July 4 weekend, doing an act of service for the country you love: Resign as chairman of the Republican party.
Your tenure has of course been marked by gaffes and embarrassments, but I for one have never paid much attention to them, and have never thought they would matter much to the success of the causes and principles we share. But now you have said, about the war in Afghanistan, speaking as RNC chairman at an RNC event, "Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in." And, "if [Obama] is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?"
Needless to say, the war in Afghanistan was not "a war of Obama’s choosing." It has been prosecuted by the United States under Presidents Bush and Obama. Republicans have consistently supported the effort. Indeed, as the DNC Communications Director (of all people) has said, your statement "puts [you] at odds with about 100 percent of the Republican Party."
And not on a trivial matter. At a time when Gen. Petraeus has just taken over command, when Republicans in Congress are pushing for a clean war funding resolution, when Republicans around the country are doing their best to rally their fellow citizens behind the mission, your comment is more than an embarrassment. It’s an affront, both to the honor of the Republican party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting to accomplish the mission they’ve been asked to take on by our elected leaders.
There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they’re certainly entitled to make their case. But one of them shouldn’t be the chairman of the Republican party.
Kristol is not alone in this hunting of heretics. Another neocon cop, Erick Erickson, the founder of the conservative "Red State" website, is saying Steele "must resign."
I have heard Michael Steele’s comments regarding Afghanistan and the President. I have read the RNC’s statement on the matter. The RNC statement is indecipherable in the context of what Michael Steele actually said. The war in Afghanistan is not a war of Barack Obama’s choosing. It is a war of Al Qaeda and the Taliban’s choosing. We responded.
Michael Steele must resign. He has lost all moral authority to lead the GOP.
Steele’s assessment of Afghanistan is far closer to correct than the one advanced by his critics. Then again, anyone who is on the opposite side of William Kristol with regards to foreign policy is bound to have the sounder argument.
The problem is that Steele is not a leader. He is terrified of his own party, and especially of its ideological policemen. By Friday afternoon the chairman was reading from the neo-con talking points again—chirping about how "for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war."
The Republican Party is not yet prepared to campaign on a "bring the troops home" platform.
That’s too bad. Congressional Democrats like Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold and Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who have been saying the same things Steele just did, are well positioned to lead a bipartisan push for an exit strategy. They have a handful of Republican allies—in Thursday’s House voting, nine GOP members joined 153 Democrats in backing a proposal by Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, D-Wisconsin, and Congressmen Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, and Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, that would have required the president to rapidly begin developing a plan for the safe, orderly and expeditious redeployment of US troops from Afghanistan. But if Steele and the Republican National Committee really did get serious about arguing that "there are other ways to engage in Afghanistan…," and if Congressional Republicans did the same, it really would be possible to check and balance Obama’s war-making.
A crazy notion? Remember that during the Vietnam War, all the major legislative proposals of bring the troops home were bipartisan measures—McGovern-Hatfield (Democratic Senator George McGovern and Republican Senator Mark Hatfield), Cooper-Church (Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper and Democratic Senator Frank Church), Case-Church (Republican Senator Clifford Case and Democrat Church)—attracted support from the most prominent and respected Republicans in Congress.
Unfortunately, today’s GOP’s congressional caucuses are thin when it comes to leaders like Mark Hatfield, John Sherman Cooper and Clifford Case.
What once was a Republican Party of conscience and character now hosts a wrestling match between Michael Steele and William Kristol.
That said, I’m rooting for Steele. At least he recognizes that, instead of an open-ended military occupation, the proper role for the United States in to "be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops."