Michael Steele Under Fire For Afghanistan Remarks

Once again, the knives are out for Michael Steele after his recent Afghanistan gaffe.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele has come under fire after his recent remarks about Afghanistan became public:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele is trying to quell controversy over his comments that the war in Afghanistan was of “Obama’s choosing” and his suggestion that it may not be winnable, remarks that put him at odds with much of his party.

On Friday, after a video surfaced of Steele’s remarks at a Connecticut fundraiser the night before, some conservatives fumed and Democrats pounced.

A spokesman for Steele quickly issued a statement clarifying that the chairman supports the troops, and Steele himself soon followed up by saying that “for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.”

Steele’s tenure at the helm of the RNC has been marked by controversies, including over his criticism of — and subsequent apology to — Rush Limbaugh and the committee’s spending money at a bondage-themed nightclub in California to entertain donors.

But his war remarks were a rare instance in which Steele articulated views on a key policy issue that differed from the party line. Most Republican members of Congress strongly supported President George W. Bush’s decision to start the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and have backed funding and troop increases there, even as many Democrats have cast doubt on the war policy.

On the video, Steele is seen saying of Obama: “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.”

The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol was among the first to post a response on these comments, and he came out demanding 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. 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.”

Kristol wasn’t alone for long as Red State’s Erick Erickson, other bloggers, as well as Liz Cheney, took up his call for Steele’s resignation yesterday afternoon. All of which caused Steele to quickly move to clarify the remarks that had been caught on tape:

Steele released a statement Friday afternoon emphasizing his support for Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. He also described the war as a “necessary one” in that statement.

“As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task,” he said in the statement.

“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.”

As I noted yesterday, Steele was both stupid and incorrect in referring to Afghanistan as a war of “Obama’s choosing,” but he wasn’t very far off the mark in expressing skepticism about the likelihood that our strategy in the war is going to succeed.

Even if you disagree with that part of his statement, though, I don’t see how it rises to the level of a fireable offense, especially considering the fact that we’re only four months away from the mid-term elections. Regardless of how those elections turn out, I don’t see Steele staying on for a second term simply because he’s tenure has been marked by gaffe after gaffe and simple general incompetence. Changing horses in mid-stream, though, seems to me to be just a bit drastic.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Afghanistan War, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hugh says:

    C’mon, there are 3-4 bedrock principles of the Republican party. Is it too much to ask that the Chairman be able to consistently articulate those principles?

  2. john personna says:

    Two words: Sarah Palin.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    The 3-4 bedrock principles of Republicanism:

    1) We hate Obama.
    2) Also gay people, immigrants and anyone else who isn’t exactly like us.
    3) We love guns.
    4) We love money.

    All he needs to do is keep hitting those points.

  4. Most Republican members of Congress strongly supported President George W. Bush’s decision to start the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and have backed funding and troop increases there, even as many Democrats have cast doubt on the war policy.

    I was originally in favor of the invasion when I though the goal was to locate and capture or eliminate the Al Qeda leadership. As it morphed into a mission to recreate Afghan society, my support went away. Indeed, it now seems that the decision to pursue the rebuilding mission is what led to the failure of the first, as they were able to just slip away to another country.

    What does it even mean to win in Afghanistan at this point? We’ve installed a government that is already a dictatorship (the last election was completely bogus and if they will do that with us there watching, imagine what he’ll do after we leave) that maintains it’s position in much of the country primarily through it’s control of the heroin trade.

    We have probably created the Iraq Baath party. In 30 years I wouldn’t be suprised if all those pictures of people shaking hands with Harmad Karzai will be just as embarassing as the pictures of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein are).

  5. We have probably created the Iraq Baath party

    That should be “We have probably created the Afghan equivalent of the Iraq Baath party”.

  6. Franklin says:

    The only real problem with the comments are that he’s the RNC Chairman, and they were going against the party line. There was a bit of truth in the comments, though. A bit.

  7. narciso says:

    Well there is a tiny nugget of truth in Stormy’s missive, Eichelberger and Copeland, two CIA men, one a former advertising executive, and a musician, the folks who brought you Nasser, did cultivate some Baathist exiles in Cairo in the early 60s, one of whom would turn out to be Saddam Hussein, he didn’t really start rising till the ’67 coup after the war, and mostly turned
    to the Soviets and the French.

  8. Hugh says:

    Lieberman doing a better job than Steele: http://bit.ly/bhbEK0

  9. tom p says:

    I know this is a post about the politics of Michael Steele…

    But when was the last time a Republican spoke out against a war? Any war?