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.

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.