Steele tries to clarify Afghanistan remarks
Worth noting in the controversy around Michael S. Steele’s comments about the war in Afghanistan is that he was addressing a Republican fundraiser in Connecticut. The state, home to many workers who commute to New York, lost 65 residents on Sept. 11, 2001.
Maryland’s former lieutenant governor on Friday is explaining remarks from the fundraiser this week in Noank, Conn., in which he described U.S. action in Afghanistan as “a war of [Democratic President Barack] Obama’s choosing,” and said it was not “something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”
The U.S. initiated the war in Afghanistan in late 2001 in direct response to the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Northern Virginia. While the action, which was aimed at rooting out the leadership of Al Qaida and their Taliban hosts, enjoyed broad bipartisan support both among elected officials and the public at large, it was ordered by Republican President George W. Bush, three years before Obama was elected to Congress.
Steele goes on to say that Obama "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?" Steele asks. "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 best guess is that Steele is referring to Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, following his campaign promises to shift military focus away from Iraq and toward Afghanistan. This approach has also won the broad support of Republicans in Congress, whose main concern has been whether Obama is committed to seeing it through.
Whatever Steele meant – he also described the events surrounding the resignation last week of Gen. Stanley McChrystal “comical” – his comments have drawn quick criticism, mostly from Democrats, but also from at least one prominent conservative. William Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, has called for Steele’s resignation.
“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,” Kristol writes. But this time, he writes, is different:
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.
Steele has now issued a statement:
As we enter the Fourth of July weekend, I proudly remember standing with Maryland National Guardsmen on their way to the Middle East and later stood with the mothers of soldiers lost at war. There is no question that America must win the war on terror.
During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear his belief that we should not fight in Iraq, but instead concentrate on Afghanistan. Now, as President, he has indeed shifted his focus to this region. That means this is his strategy. And, for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.
As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one. That is why I supported the decision to increase our troop force and, like the entire United States Senate, I support General Petraeus’ confirmation. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.