At a fundraiser in Connecticut on yesterday, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele made some startling declarations about the war in Afghanistan that put him on wrong side of the facts and in opposition with his own party’s position. While chiding Obama for not being a good enough “student of history,” Steele declared that the war — started nine years ago by President Bush — was “of Obama’s choosing,” explaining that America had not “actively prosecuted or wanted to engage” in it before Obama took office.
STEELE: Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. […]
It was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan. Well, if he’s 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? All right, 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.
Steele’s suspicion of the war effort completely contradicts his party’s position, but it also conflicts with his own prior statements.. After President Obama was “hammered by opponents on the right” last year for supposedly taking too long to announce his plan for the campaign, Steele called the war a “crucial fight.” Steele even attacked Obama for “sending mixed signals by outlining the exit before these troops even get on the ground undermines their ability to succeed.”
As the Wasington Monthly’s Steve Benen ponders, “What in the world is Steele talking about?” RNC spokesperson Doug Heye quickly tried answer that question, but the statement he released completely dodges both of Steele’s explosive claims:
The Chairman clearly supports our troops but believes that success of the war effort in Afghanistan requires the ongoing support of the American people.
The responsibility for building and maintaining that strategy falls squarely on the shoulders of the President. Like so many Americans, Chairman Steele wants to hear an explanation from President Obama on what his strategy is for winning the war in Afghanistan. The Petraeus hearings were an opportunity – a missed opportunity – to do that. Instead, all we hear from the President is criticism of his predecessor for doing exactly the same thing.
Bill Kristol, the neoconservative editor of the Weekly Standard, has called for Steele to resign over the comments. “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 wrote.
,Steele issued a statement this afternoon re-framing and standing by his views on the war, explaining, “As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task.” “There is no question that America must win the war on terror. … We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, [the war] is also a necessary one,” he added.