The Antiwar Oratory of Michael Steele


The hubbub of the day involves RNC Chairman Michael Steele's remarks about Afghanistan at a Connecticut fundraiser:

Keep in mind, again, our federal candidates, this was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not, this is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in….[I]f 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 that we can engage in Afghanistan without committing more troops.

And you know, the kids like all kids love the dog and I just want to say this right now that regardless of what Bill Kristol says about it, we're gonna keep him.

It isn't the most coherent critique of the Afghan campaign, and I say that as someone who favors withdrawal. Barack Obama may own the war now, but it's pretty odd to call it "a war of Obama's choosing," as though the nation leapt directly from September 2001 to January 2009 (and as though the White House escalated the war over the objections of the Republican Party). Greg Sargent suggests that "Steele initially meant to say that the Afghan war wasn't a war of our choosing because we were attacked on September 11th, forcing us to invade. But that came out all wrong because he garbled it by mixing it with an attack on Obama." Well, maybe. Or maybe Steele was just being a hack.

At any rate, the chairman's pessimism about the likely outcome in Afghanistan is perfectly defensible. Steele being Steele, he has refused to defend it, instead "clarifying" those sentiments out of existence. Over at neocon central, Bill Kristol is calling for Steele's resignation; we'll soon see if Steele's follow-up statements are enough to fend off the hawks.

As Daniel McCarthy points out, none of this means that Steele is some sort of closet dove. "The RNC chairman was reflexively attacking a Democratic president's policy; it just happened to be his foreign policy, in this case," McCarthy writes. But "Steele's remarks are significant nevertheless. Republicans have previously criticized Obama's Afghan policy for not being hawkish enough; now, for practically the first time, we see something like the 1990s Republican criticism of 'nation-building' (under Democratic presidents, that is) surfacing among the GOP leadership." If Steele is a weathervane, the fact that he moved ever-so-briefly in an antiwar direction suggests that the anti-interventionist side of the right has gained some strength.

The anti-interventionist side of the Dems, on the other hand, is weaker than ever. Here's the Democratic National Committee's response to Steele's comments:


Here goes Michael Steele setting policy for the GOP again. The likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be interested to hear that the Republican Party position is that we should walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job. They'd also be interested to hear that the Chairman of the Republican Party thinks we have no business in Afghanistan notwithstanding the fact that we are there because we were attacked by terrorists on 9-11.

And, the American people will be interested to hear that the leader of the Republican Party thinks recent events related to the war are 'comical' and that he is betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan. It's simply unconscionable that Michael Steele would undermine the morale of our troops when what they need is our support and encouragement. Michael Steele would do well to remember that we are not in Afghanistan by our own choosing, that we were attacked and that his words have consequences."

Glenn Greenwald rounds up some similar reactions and concludes:

The DNC's behavior is bolstering the poisonous, manipulative premise that to oppose an American war is an "affront" to the Troops and their families and the by-product of a cowardly desire to "walk away from the fight" with the Terrorists. When the DNC, a front page Daily Kos writer and Bill Kristol all join together to smear someone with common language for opposing a war, it's clear that something toxic is taking place.


NEXT: Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse. Unless You're in Law Enforcement.

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  1. Keep in mind, again, our federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not, this is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in….[I]f 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?

    Not to put to fine a point on it, but just where in hell was Michael Steele between October 7, 2001 and January 20, 2009? Is there an Alternate America somewhere on the planet which was under a Democrat President?

    1. We all know Obama is responsible for all wars past and present. Or it’s all Bush’s fault. I’m confused now.

      1. No.

        According to the talking heads, wars are all the fault of libertarians.

        Or Warren’s.

        1. You guys are all right. According to Steele and the Republicans everything evar is Obama’s fault. According to the Democrats, everything messed up Obama’s ever done was somehow Bush’s fault. And I guess Bush and Obama must be libertarians, because we all know it’s all the libertarians’ fault. LOL

          1. But we’ve always been at war against Eurasia.

            1. Wait, what was the other nation to choose from, cause i could swear it was them….

    2. Not to put to fine a point on it

      Thanks, i was was looking for another song to pull up on youtube,

      TMBG it is, wooo!

      PS: You’re the only Bee in My Bonnet, Aresen.

  2. Steele will soon join Ron Paul in GOP exile for daring question the fairy tale of US Exceptionalism.

  3. As if the Dems needed to be outed as pro-war.

    OTOH, it’s a hilarious gaffe from the spokesman for the institutionally pro-war GOP.

    1. The GOP wasn’t pro-war back when Clinton was deploying troops to Kosovo, barely a decade ago. They’re no more institutionally pro-war than the Dems.

      1. In fact, the arguments for and against going into Kosovo were pretty similar to the ones for and against going into Iraq. The one difference is the party affiliation of the ones making the argument.

        1. But once the argument was won the execution by each President was night and day.

          1. Kosovo wasn’t even comparable to Iraq as far as difficulty keeping the peace is concerned. Not that I’m trying to excuse Bush for invading Iraq, but they’re just not comparable (and Clinton wanted to topple Saddam too, btw).

            1. At least Clinton wasn’t stupid enough to actually invade.

              Ignoring who wanted to topple who, the idea that a post-invasion, nation-building occupation was unnecessary was one of the most retarded conceptions in the history of American foreign affairs.

              1. You can’t have one, without the other

              2. At least Clinton wasn’t stupid enough to actually invade.

                Yeah, but that was mostly because when he teamed up Big Al and Mad Allbright to go out on the burlesquepolitical circuit to drum up support for an invasion they got an earful of opposition from every audience they spoke to.

            2. Republicans in the 90s weren’t saying Milosevic was a “victim” of the US. They just thought Clinton was using him to distract from his domestic problems.

              1. What were those?

      2. And actually Bush ran his first campaign promising that we would not be the world’s policemen (referring both to Kosovo and Somolia). And at the time, the conservatives applauded him for it. Eight years later we have Ron Paul getting jeered for the same stance. FUBAR

        1. I’m pretty sure 9/11 had something to do with that.

          1. No doubt. The neocons took over the GOP from that. I just thought it amazing that it swang so far the other direction in such a short amount of time. I mean you go from lauding a major principle that’s part of your platform to calling it crazy within 8 years. It think it’s just another piece of evidence showing politics is crap.

            1. Bush also ran on fiscal responsibility in 2000, and he has absolutely no excuse for going back on that promise.

          1. It seems to me that every modern president has done the opposite what he campaigned on doing in foreign policy.

            Clinton – stand up to China

            Bush – Humble foreign policy

            Obama – End the wars

          2. Yeap, and then 8 years later Rudy campaigns for the US to be all about nation building and gets kudos for it. wtf. These freakin’ guys.

            1. At least John McCain didn’t change.

              1. Yes, good ol’ reliable, protect-our-borders-at-all-costs McCain.

  4. Well, maybe. Or maybe Steele was just being a hack.

    Why can’t it be both? (imo it is)

    1. If it’s both, he’s not just being a hack.

      1. I didn’t read carefully enough. Yes, Steele garbled his words, mixed his message, *and* is being a partisan hack (the last being about as surprising as the wetness of H2O, of course)

  5. Leave it to tha Republicans to mess up their ONLY attempt at Affirmative Action–bwaHaHaHaHa!!

    1. If there was ever a better indictment of affirmative action than this…

  6. I completely agree with Glenn Greenwald. He’s such a smart guy.

    1. I see what you did there, heh heh.

  7. The anti-interventionist side of the Dems, of the other hand, is weaker than ever.

    Was there one? News to me . . .

    1. 2003-January 19, 2008.

      1. Yeah, the Dems are reliably anti-intervention when a Republican is in office and he’s fucking up the war du jour. (I’d say it was at least ’05 or ’06 before anti-interventionism had any real momentum – the Dems were pretty supine when the “let’s bomb some brown people” policy was popular with the electorate, as evidenced by the entertaining scramble to explain away pro-war votes by Clinton et al during the last election.)

  8. Michael Steele has no goddamn idea what he’s saying, ever. Whenever he says something stupid, its just because he wants to be liked by someone, probably whoever he’s talking to.

    The GOP was double damned when choosing the new RNC chair after ’08.

    Choose old white guy?
    The Republicans are racist, out of touch with electorate.

    Choose token?
    The Republican chose a token to show they aren’t racist, out of touch with electorate. How racist! How out of touch with the electorate!

    1. Just goes to show they should have chosen a wise Latina woman.

      1. Yeah, Steele’s pretty terrible. Ah, well, better to be invisible (?) like his predecessor.

    2. He’s like the Biden of GOP, only without the strange outbursts of accidental truth.

  9. And in his follow-up comments he claimed that he supported the troop increase…either Steele is the worst political hack ever or he’s schizophrenic.

    That said, it’s fascinating how left becomes right and up becomes down. It seems like only yesterday that Harry Reid was nearly lynched by the “right” for claiming we had lost in Iraq.

    1. Yes, I find it funny how the RNC and DNC seem to have no discernible principles.

      1. Gaining power, that’s about it.

    2. Because winning and losing is not a state of reality in nation-building wars – it is political rhetoric only.

      We lost $1 trillion and 5000 soldiers in Iraq – we won bragging rights for deposing a half-ass strongman with no WMD. Hell, Bush even botched the oil Production Sharing Agreements Cheney promised the Ugly Oil Sisters.

      Obama will never admit his losses in Afghanistan either. Petraeus is perfect cover to stay until 2016 if needed.

      1. Hell, Bush even botched the oil Production Sharing Agreements Cheney promised the Ugly Oil Sisters.

        Or perhaps it wasn’t actually a war for oil, considering that the oil companies generally opposed the war too.

        I know that there are people who are upset that it wasn’t more of a war for oil, which, when the cudgel is handy, is an argument that shrike will make too it seems…

        1. It was about protecting oil. You take the oil out of the middle east, we won’t give a rat’s ass what goes on over there. No oil in Darfur, no troops.

        2. I wish that it had been a war for oil.

          That may have been evil, but at least would be rational.

          Does anyone know, even now, why Bush started the war?

          Does Bush?

          1. Sadaam tried to kill my daddy.

          2. Might find it here somewhere Josh if you have lots of free time.

            Pre 9/11 neocon “Letter to President Clinton on Iraq” here:


            Pre 9/11 Neocon – “Rebuilding America’s Defences” project paper here:


            Compared to the post 9/11 National Security Stategy of the US in 2002 here:


            1. There have been at least half a dozen different rationales and the only one that even kind of makes sense is the “he tried to kill daddy” line of bs.

              1. Please. I was opposed to the Iraq war, but the notion that, yes, the Middle East is the final area of “Wild West” yet to be tamed, and therefore would become strategically important, makes some sense. The situation with Saudi Arabia was untenable – reliant on their goodwill, we were unable to say anything about their theocracy while simultaneously pissing off Muslims for being located in the Holy Land.

                At the time, most of the strategic rationales made sense.

                1. Which strategic rationales in particular?

                  Because they all seemed like retarded half baked specious arguments to me. At the time they were made.

                2. There are plenty of strategic rationales for conquering the Sun, as it is a pretty strategically important place.

                  That doesn’t mean you try to do it without a sensible plan of execution.

        3. Thacker – then Bush Sec. of Treasury Paul O’Neill produced a map from the Cheney Energy Task Force that divided Iraqi oil fields into quadrants for BP, Exxon, Texaco, and one other.

          It is in Ron Susskind’s book but was never questioned by corporate MSM.

  10. As the owner of a Boston Terrier, the only thing I can say is PUT DOWN MY DOG YOU BASTARD!

    1. Do your dogs eyes pop out like that? That would freak me out.

      1. Pretty much. You get used to it.

    2. Black guy with a pit bull! BLAM BLAM BLAM!

      1. + .357

  11. I love the alt-text on the picture, Jesse.

    1. Yes, that’s really good alt text.

  12. “”The DNC’s behavior is bolstering the poisonous, manipulative premise that to oppose an American war is an “affront” to the Troops and their families and the by-product of a cowardly desire to “walk away from the fight” with the Terrorists””

    We have entered Bizarro world.

    I remember it like it was only yesterday…. when this was the standard play of the GOP when they were in power. There is no irony in Washington, and apparently there are no new tactics for smearing each other. Its just swapping rhetoric depending on who is in power.

    Stay tuned for the GOP being called “cut-and-run terrorist appeasers…Blame America Firsters”

    Someone please change the channel, I’ve seen this show before.

    1. I’m astonished the GOP hasn’t fired Steele’s ass already. What an embarassment.

      1. He’s a black Republican. One of six in the nation. ?Comprende?

  13. It’s official: everybody in politics is ten years old.

    Wake we when we have substantive discourse again.

    1. fuck you too!

  14. Obama chooses to continue the war, if that isn’t a war of Obama’s choosing then what the hell is?

    1. I think it’s time for a picture of Obama on a tank.

      1. Damn, I make this helmet look good!

    2. I could have bought Steele’s comments if he had said “Obama chose to continue and escalate a war”, but his comments clearly implied that the war somehow began with Obama.

      So Steele is an ass. A partisan hack of an ass.

      1. ^this^

        Obama “bought” (took total responsibility for) the war in Afghanistan for the purchase price of 30,000 US troops and a huge increase in predator attacks in Pakistan. While only a fool (the GOP has one or two in house) would say something like

        this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not, this is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in…

        only a partisan hack would deny that every single failure in Afghanistan from his inauguration on lies squarely on Obama’s shoulders.

        We are defending an illegitimate (brazenly stole the last election), corruption riddled regime and failing. It feels like d?j? vu all over again.

        Building a secular, mutiparty democratic society that believes in the rule of law in Afghanistan is impossible. I’ve been screaming “fool’s mission!” at the top of my lungs since it was first proposed as a goal of the US led NATO occupation.

        I’m goodam right about this and I fear Obama finally realizes it as well but is willing to tough it out, deny he’s windmmill tiliting, for domestic political reasons.

        Just like LBJ.

  15. This post is a complete failure for not referencing the most famous classic blunder.

    Opportunity missed, respect lost.

    1. Inconceivable!!

  16. And people fall for this shit.

  17. OT: Beetlejuice is the best dead people movie ever.

  18. Boston Terrier

    Very ugly dogs. I suppose they got rid of rats by being so hideous the rats went looking for a less hideous dog to chase them.

    1. Elvis (my Boston) doesn’t waste his time on little vermin – he goes for woodchucks. He’s the bane of Punxatawney Phil. He’s racked up nine of Phil’s buds in the last year alone.

      1. Pound for pound, bad little SOB’s

        1. Hard to believe they evolved from wolves.

        2. And a lot more personality than Michael Steele.

      2. I had a woodchuck take up residence in my basement once (it was a very old house). I would have loved to borrow a dog like Elvis to take out the fucker.

      3. Roger that. One vicious woodchuck killing dog to be shot.

  19. Pretty soon, Afghanistan will have enough Americans within its borders to get its own electoral vote.

  20. It’s taken me seven long years, but I finally passed through the wormhole into this beard-bearing alternate universe.

    1. Wait, you DON’T all have dark evil-looking beards! WTF is going on here?

  21. I find it funny how the RNC and DNC seem to have no discernible principles.

    I’m laughing on the inside.

  22. both corrupt parties
    corrupt corp media

    federal reserve
    aipac upset

    9/11 liars

  23. I would appreciate it if Reason-and everyone else-would cut it out with this ‘Graveyard of Empires’ crap. Afghanistan has been successfully conquered by both Alexander the Great (whom Khandahar is named after I believe) and the Mongol Empire. The Soviets were actually winning their before Stinger missiles and other cool stuff started mysteriously appearing in the hands of the Mujaheddin. This ‘unconquerable’ crap is almost as annoying as the idea about the Iraq war being unwinnable (WRONG) or for oil. Our war in Afghanistan is totally winnable IFF we 1) stop giving Talquaeda hand over fistfull of cash by pursuing a war on drugs their 2) cut Karzai and the whole idiotic nation-building crap loose & 3) end grossly restrictive rules on engagement that treat our soldiers lives as less important than those of the enemy civilians. We must realize that civilian deaths are the moral burden of the Islamist aggressors, not ours (Libertarians have been largely part of the problems in respect to point #3).

    In this case, I define victory as putting Afghanistan in a state where it won’t revert to being a terror factory after foreign forces leave. I am not satisfied it is in such a state currently, although if I have to choose I’d rather take ‘leave now’ than any option that does not incorporate at least 2 of the 3 points I made.

    1. I apologize for the their-there mistake; my auto correct is being strange.

    2. What the hell are “enemy civilians” in this case? We’re not at war with Afghanistan, we’re at war with Taliban/al-Qaeda, and any members of those groups are ipso facto not civilians.

      We must realize that civilian deaths are the moral burden of the Islamist aggressors, not ours (Libertarians have been largely part of the problems in respect to point #3).

      That’s waaaaay too easy a way to justify all sorts of atrocities. I would say that, yes, if Taliban fighters are hiding in the midst of civilians and firing weapons at our troops, then we have no choice but to defend ourselves, and in that case you are correct about the moral burden.

      But in the many cases where civilian deaths are simply due to sloppy target identification or something more sinister, the moral burden is squarely upon us.

      1. I used to think like this. Unfortunately, we are at war with Afghanistan. I’m not advocating ‘cleansing’, but rather a more robust and brutal view of war (American Self-Defense) vs the kid-glove approach advocated by Just War Theory.

        “Sloppy Target Identification” is waaaayy to easy to justify slandering the soldiers like WikiEdits and Reason did to the guy in the helicopter. A good example of the sort of tactics I would use in Afghanistan is one that was used in the US Civil War. If a town/village is found housing The Enemy, end it. Evacuate everyone out of the village and tear down the village (after killing all of the enemies of course). Tactics like these have demoralized and terminated insurgencies in the past from the Philippines to Yemen. The alternative is failure, and that’s unacceptable.

        1. I’m with you toxic. A Sherman’s March through Assholistan would save American and Afghan lives. The people who had to pick up the pieces would be more careful about supporting people who harm innocents(sp?)in the West lest another rain of destuction fall on their heads.

        2. I guess we should start with San Diego, which harbored the 9/11 hijackers (you know, people who actually attacked America) before the attacks. Unless you reserve the destroying-in-order-to-save approach for places inhabited by brown people.

          1. Your inability to go to round 3 without having to resort to asinine race baiting betrays your weak intellect. Congrats, you’ve managed to hang yourself with very little rope. Now die.

        3. Beyond that, my approach to this debate is going to be letting the idiot have as much rope as he needs to hang himself.

          1. You’re “take the gloves off” approach is what we should have been doing in 2001 & 2002, not now in 2010.

            After 9/11, we should have declared war on the Taliban regime and went in full-throttle. Demolished Kandahar, level the west and south with air power, and sent in a REAL invasion force (NOT just special ops ninjas and CIA agents to work with unreliable warlords).

            The war should have ended at Tora Bora, with Marines/Army Rangers sent in with massive air support, rather than let our Afghan “allies” take charge and then provide Al Qaeda safe passage. And after that, we could pack our bags and go home, rather than teach these goatfucks about democracy.

            But it’s too late for that now. Even if we adopted that approach we’d have to adopt it in PAKISTAN, where the real threat is, and that would kick up such a shitstorm it wouldn’t be remotely worth it.

            Sorry to be long-winded.

            1. PLUS, what people mean when they say you can’t win in Afghanistan is that you can’t OCCUPY it.

              All Western powers who have tried to “remake” the country failed. Alexander’s satraps were eventually kicked out (albeit after he croaked), the British got their asses handed to em,’ and we all know about the Soviets. But straightforward punitive campaigns, where the victor refrains from occupying, have worked well.

              1. Right,

                We should have left in Jan 02 after eliminating the Taliban with the statement that we would return and kill anyone that harbored terrorists that attacke us.

              2. I believe the British actually managed a really nice setup where they supported a peaceful regime that didn’t harm nobody and wasn’t too awfully repressive. It was a very poor country but in kind of a ‘nice-poor’ way. Of course the Soviet commies had to shit on that.

        4. The problem with your theory is that “victory in Afghanistan” is an unachievable abstraction.

          Yeah Alexander conquered territory, the people he left behind were slaughtered shortly after he left.

          Yeah the Mongols were able to slaughter everyone in all of their population centers. Somehow I don’t think that’s what you’re advocating.

          1. To be fair, in Alexander’s case, it was more a function of palace intrigue and Hellenic disunion than anything else: the regime in place was still reliably Hellenic. It’s more comparable to the American Revolutionary War than to, say, America’s conflict in the Philippines.

            It was also conquered and occupied by Persians, nomadic tribes, and various ethnic groups. The biggest problem with the region has always been a lack of economic value.

    3. I define victory as putting Afghanistan in a state where it won’t revert to being a terror factory after foreign forces leave

      Slaughtering civilians will most definitely convince others not to become terrorists.

      1. Slaughtering civilians will most definitely convince others not to become terrorists.

        It worked in Tokyo and Dresden.

        1. And the Belgian Congo. Not saying that we want to go to the extremes of the Germans, but it did work.

        2. Which is what makes those not atrocities but moral acts. I don’t think we have to go to the extreme of wanton slaughter of civilians-yet. I really don’t want to. But if they attack us again because we withdrew before the enemy was neutralized, we might. Not to mention getting Patriot Act II.

          1. ….Moral Act?

            Jesus Christ in Heaven

        3. Professional armies are not, repeat, not, terrorists. Try again.

          1. Professional armies are not, repeat, not, terrorists. Try again.

            So everyone in Tokyo and Dresden were in a professional army?

    4. Re: Alexander – depends on what you mean… but he did briefly subdue it after a 3 year campaign “where every foot of the ground is like a well of steel, confronting my soldier”

      That said, it has been a remote, never fully controlled region of numerous Empires, including the Mongols. None really controlled the isolated mountain communities, from what I recall of my study of this, oh, 25 years ago.

      1. The Greco-Bactrians did okay there, though that was arguably a local rebellion-cum-cultural fusion. The Persians didn’t have a whole lot of trouble there, and some Indian empires (prior to Muslim conquest) did a decent job pacifying the region, as well.

        There’s nothing intrinsically impossible about pacifying Afghanistan: the problem with modern Afghanistan is that it has little of value, a populace that is ill-disposed to democracy, and the fact that it’s a veritable breeding ground for terrorists and insurgents (the country’s various factions have stirred up trouble in India/Pakistan, Chechnya, Iran, and China).

    5. stop giving Talquaeda hand over fistfull of cash

      You mean the torturer of the Spanish Inquisition?

      Isn’t that cat dead by now?

    6. We must realize that civilian deaths are the moral burden of the Islamist aggressors, not ours

      Feckin right, mate!

      (napalms orphanage)

      1. All those Vietnamese (oops-Afghanese) kids were just aching to invade Texas. We had to napalm em.

        1. All those Vietnamese (oops-Afghanese) kids were just aching to invade Texas. We had to napalm em.

          Did North Vietnam harbor terrorists who crashed airliners into buildings?

  24. I’m thinking the Petraeus appointment was done by the Obamatrons for the following, purely political, reasons:

    (1) It insulates them from any criticism about the war effort, since the war is being run by Everyone’s Favorite General.

    (2) It eliminates Petraeus as a potential political threat. First, he’s tied down in Afghanistan. Then, when victory proves elusive there, his halo is permanently tarnished.

    Anyone notice, BTW, how Obama skated out of the whole McChrystal clusterfuck without anyone pointing out that McChrystal was his hand-picked general, and turned out to be a flake who wasn’t up to the job?

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