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Tilting at Windmills

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July 2, 2010

RNC'S STEELE REJECTS REPUBLICAN LINE ON AFGHANISTAN.... Republican Party officials have fought the Obama administration vehemently on every area of domestic and foreign policy with one exception -- the war in Afghanistan. From congressional Republicans to Fox News to Kristol and the Cheneys, Obama is wrong about literally everything, except his Afghanistan policy.

So it was startling, to say the least, to see this new video that's making the rounds this morning, in which Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele stakes out a position on the war that puts him entirely at odds with the entirety of his political party.

Steele spoke a fundraiser yesterday in Noank, Connecticut, and was heard criticizing the president's war policy with inexplicable remarks.

The audio is a little tough to hear at times, but by my ear, Steele is heard saying, "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. It was one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy ... that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops.

"But it was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should 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 without committing U.S. troops."

What in the world is Steele talking about?

At first blush, it's tempting to think this puts Steele to the left of even many congressional Democrats, but after listening the clip a few times, it seems Steele is combining a liberal line on the war with fundamental ignorance about recent developments.

The war in Afghanistan is "of Obama's choosing"? If memory serves, the war began in 2001, before Obama was even in the Senate, better yet the White House. The war "not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in"? We chose to "actively prosecute" this war from Day One.

Michael Steele has made some bizarre and humiliating remarks since taking charge at the RNC, but I can't make heads or tails of this one.

It does, however, offer yet another opportunity to ask Republican leaders what they think of their party chairman's odd public comments. This one should generate some interesting responses.

Update: My friend Bill Simmon reminds me that Steele's thinking seems to be in line with Vizzini in "The Princess Bride."

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Comments

I was thoroughly flummoxed by this. I truly can't tell whether he's a liar or an idiot. Probably a healthy dose of both, I suppose.

Posted by: budpaul on July 2, 2010 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

He's a perfect spokesperson for the Republican Party. He has no idea what he's talking about.

Posted by: atlliberal on July 2, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

it's just bad news after more bad news.

and then there's a michael steele story, and - for just a moment - i'm cheerful again.

Posted by: sadly on July 2, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

I can't believe I am saying this but Michael Steele is absolutely right. Bush had no interest in Afganistan. Obama used it as a political football to bolster his military chops. He then was forced to live up to his rhetoric when every conceivable good policy alternative required us to get out. He decided to go all in for a limited time. I am liberal and I absolutely believe that Afganistan is Obama's war, not Bush's.

Posted by: Scott F. on July 2, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

As we keep telling Steve, this crap doesn't make any sense and isn't supposed to - there's no point in looking for sense. Steel is trying out Republican spin for if the WIA goes badly, so they can pick on Obama about that. Yet more reason that Republicans don't give a damn about the USA, and will take political advantage of anything they can.

Scott F: Regardless, Obama inherited Afghanistan. It's just cynicism to say it was to bolster military chops. He had plenty of advisers to say it was really a problematical theater to pull out it, debatable as that may be. It is not clear we could just pull out and things would be well enough, considering the interaction with Western Pakistan etc.

Posted by: Neil B on July 2, 2010 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK
that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?
Or, of course, go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!
Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on July 2, 2010 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Well, Steele would have been correct to say that it was a war we were not actively interested in prosecuting after March of 2003, when our ADHD ex-prez bugged out of Afghanistan to chase off after Saddam. He is quite right, however, that it's suicidal to attempt a land war in Afghanistan, and morally problematic, to put it mildly, to use drone strikes for targeted assassinations. Let's file this one under "even a stopped clock is right twice a day" and hope it gives Obama the bipartisan cover he needs to cut his losses and get out. If I were religious, I'd say that maybe God has a purpose even for the likes of Steele.

Posted by: T-Rex on July 2, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Steele is crazy but he is on to something here. I always felt Bush,Cheney,Rumsfield were the biggest pussies ever and knew the Afganistan history Steele referencies and wanted nothing to do with it and the real problem. So drop a few bombs and move on to Iraq

Posted by: Jim R on July 2, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

No, Steve, Shrub "actively pursued the war in Afghanistan from Day One" until Tora Bora. Our war was not against the Taliban, per se. Our war was against Al-Quada and bin Laden. We only fought, with the help of the Northern Alliance, the Taliban because they were harboring Osama and his A-Q cohorts.

It was the fault of Shrub, Cheney, Rumdumb and Bootlicker Franks that bin Laden was allowed to escape. Then, they pulled our forces to a minimum and concentrated on Iraq. In the vacuum left in Afghanistan, the Taliban surged. Therefore, in refocusing our efforts to take out Al-Quada, we have run afoul of a nationalistic civil war conducted by the Taliban. This has completely muddied our purpose in Afghanistan and our record of becoming involved in civil wars abroad is very spotty. We can ill afford to lose our national treasure in the young men and women of our military, especially, when the mission has become so unclear.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 2, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Every single person in a leadership position of the Republican party is a fuckin' idiot.

Every.

Single.

One.

Boehner, Cantor, Steele --- okay, maybe Mitch McConnell isn't an idiot, perhaps he's just an asshole --- Palin, Bachmann, Beck, Limbaugh, the list is endless.

I realize that it's indelicate to rebrand them the Fuckin' Idiot Party, as I've been advocating on this site for the past couple of months, but why not be honest for once?

I would love it if the DNC would run ads everywhere this fall which basically say:

"This election season, you have a choice. You can vote for [Democrat], who will work with President Obama to lead our country out of the mistakes of the past to a brighter, stronger future, or you can vote for [Republican], who, like most leaders in the Republican party, is a fuckin' idiot.

Please, on November 2, don't be an idiot. Vote for [Democrat]."

Yeah, it would create one huge shitstorm about 'comity' and 'decorum' and all of that stuff Republicans and the media pretend to care about. It might also spark a discussion about whether or not most Republicans are fuckin' idiots, which I think would be quite a worthwhile discussion to have.

Posted by: David Bailey on July 2, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Inadvertently, Steele may be on to something. There has never been any option of "winning" in Afghanistan.

But I disagree that this is "Obama's war." Ridiculously, the "mission" morphed from "get Bin Laden" to "bringing democracy," at the point of a gun. As if.

I guess we can assume then that Steele is all on board with the 2011 withdrawal date?

That does indeed put him at odds with senate Republicans. An online questionnaire by the NRSC seems to indicate they think we should stay there forever.

Posted by: karen marie on July 2, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Scott F. Steele's statements are correct. Even a broken clock is right occassionally.

Posted by: nonplussed on July 2, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Neil B. Politics is inherently cynical. I am a big supporter of the President, hell I even went out of state to campaign for him, but even I knew as a supporter that he preferred position would have been to have nothing to do with Afgan. He was running against Hillary and McCain, he couldn't take that position without looking weak. His point was an intellectual one, directed at the futility of Iraq more than the benefits of engaging in Afganistan. Of course there are big risks to leaving, but there are larger risks to staying. My guess is that he knows that and that is why he imposed the July 2011 timeline. Love him or hate him, he always tries to have it both ways. That's a feature not a bug with Obama.

Posted by: Scott F. on July 2, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Steele just makes my thinky-parts hurt. Premises, inferences, conclusions... ahhh, wtf.

Posted by: MattF on July 2, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Sometimes I wonder if Steele is a performance artist of the highest caliber - the kind that would make Andy Kaufman weep with envy were he still alive today.

Sometimes I wonder if Steele hates his job and just gets kicks out of seeing what outrageous things he can get away with saying as the head of the RNC.

But most days I suspect that Michael Steele is just a grade-A certifiable loon. Today is one of those days.

Posted by: NonyNony on July 2, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

@nonplussed:
"I agree with Scott F. Steele's statements are correct. Even a broken clock is right occassionally."

I think that Steele is the digital version of a broken clock.

Just flashing 88:88:88 24/7

Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki on July 2, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

"But it was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should in Afghanistan."

If by demonizing Iraq he meant the war in Iraq, he's right, maybe not the cute part, but yeah.

I've been seeing this alot lately. Take a poorly worded statement, ignore what the guy really meant and that he was basically right, and go OMG! What an Idiot!

OR

What in the world is Steele talking about?

Posted by: agave on July 2, 2010 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't Steele widely considered to be a clown, even *within* the GOP?

Posted by: Jon on July 2, 2010 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

What is happening in Afghanistan now is a direct result of Bush/Cheney pulling out for the sake of invading a country not involved in 9-11. We abandoned Afghanistan after the Russians were defeated and abandoned them again when the oilfields of Iraq just became too tempting to resist. The claim that this is America's longest war at 10 years and counting is ludicrous seeing as how after March of 2003 we had no army to speak of in the country. This was Pat Tillman's major beef in that he joined up to fight those who aided al Queda but instead was sent to Iraq to go after the guy who supposedly "tried to kill my Daddy".

Posted by: bobatkinson on July 2, 2010 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Don't insult Princess Bride like that

Posted by: zappawannebe on July 2, 2010 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj2w4DpWp6M&feature=related

I think Steele is better represented by this "legos" version of the battle of wits. Seems more appropriate. The land war bit is nearly at the end of course.

Posted by: dannyshenanigan on July 2, 2010 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Steele continued, "Also, we have always been at war with Eurasia. War is Peace."

Posted by: short fuse on July 2, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Scott F: As a supporter of Obama, he really had very little choice in Afghanistan because, after all, the initial reason to fight in Afghanistan was because it was the base of al-Qaeda. By the time Obama inherited this mess, there were choices--but a quick withdrawal would have been worse militarily and politically than to stay longer with more forces in the hope that sufficient Afghan troops and police could be trained to prohibit Osama and his entourage to once more use Afghanistan as a base. I'm not optimistic, but perhaps the year ahead might allow us to leave over time.

Posted by: Philat on July 2, 2010 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Steele is 100% correct. Conservatives have never bought into this long distance protracted war nonsense. Sun Tzu states clearly it will bankrupt the treasury. Whatever you call Cheney and Bush, they weren't conservatives. They were big gov rinos and they are as lethal to the nation as liberals.

Steele is correct historically about the invasions of Afghanistan. The Obama invasion came complete with a troop removal for political purposes. So our GI's are at risk for Obama's political gain. This was Obama's strategy and the morale in the troops clearly is low and clearly noted by McCrystal. While Obama golfs, our men are at risk.

The message of Vietnam, where I fought as a front line combat Marine, is that political wars are a disaster and a double economic disaster. Only liberals and big gov rinos support this kind of insanity. Every time you commit to a long distance war you send the economy into a recession. And there is no target in Afghanistan worth the loss of a single life.

I guarantee you one thing, Krystol never went to war and yet somehow he thinks himself an expert on the subject.

Republicans need to shape up and purge the party of some bad ideas. The first really bad idea is that Republicans have to embrace war as some kind of identifier that we will fight at any cost and not give up. Go back and study Vietnam. Liberals got us into it and rinos kept us in it. With rinos like old Glue Horse McCain, there is no cognizable limit as to how long American troops are to remain in a combat zone. McCain suggested 100 years in Iraq. He was a POW, not a war hero. I am a Marine, we were instructed to fight to the death. But you can bet the first thing out of McCain's mouth were "my grandaddy is Naval admiral and my daddy a rear-admiral so I am a valuable POW." The second big military mouth in the Gov is John Yellow Stain Kerry, the owner of three scratchless purple hearts. The very thought of this is repulsive.

War is serious business. You commit to war when you have to fight, not for purely political gain.

Ron Paul is a Conservative Republican and he is exactly right about war. Conservatives are repulsed by war and the many costs of war. For Republicans to hang onto the contention that Iraq and Afghanistan serve the interests of our country are incorrect. These costly wars are an economic disaster and a political disaster.

Afghanistan is Obama's war. Republicans should not be supporting this. The history of war is as follows:

WWI Wilson
WWII FDR
Korea Truman
Vietnam JFK LBJ Nixon
Gulf War Bush I
Gulf War II Bush II, Obama
Afghanistan Obama

Bush I and Bush II are big gov rinos. There is not a conservative on the war lists. Bush I put us in recession by expanding gov which Reagan had reduced.

Bush II triggered a recession off of Iraq and expanded gov by over 50% in size! He signed SARBOX the most anti-business legislation every thrown at business and was responsible for an offshore exodus of our multinational business. Bush II signed homeland security into being, an unfunded medicare drug entitlement. He destroyed the airlines and then nationalized Freddie and Fannie. Does any of this sound like a Republican?

Bush and Jimmy Carter are by far and away the worst presidents in history but Obama may eclipse them both.

But one thing is certain. If the Rinos keep showing up for reelection you may as well vote in liberals because there is no difference. I am not opposed to war on immoral grounds. I am opposed to these present wars on the grounds of total economic stupidity.

Ronald Reagan ended the cold war which is what a Conservative would do, then with that huge peacetime dividend, Bush I and Bush II send us to war again for no earthly reason.

Michael Steele is exactly right on this one. Republicans need to purge themselves of Bush rinoisms, and the apparent Cheney love of long distance protracted war. Think about it. Of all the people I have mentioned in my post, I am the only one that was in front line combat, day in and day out. Bush's got to fly just like McCain but they were all lousy pilots gearing up for political window dressing.

I like Ron Paul's articulation about the present wars and I think his Conservative message is more the view of Conservatives and Krystol's view is that of the deadly rino company line.

Posted by: Lordrobot on July 2, 2010 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Other than the Obama Administration and the Fox News crowd there is no political support for a protracted war in Afghanistan. Michael Steele said the truth, and not all conservatives are in lockstep with this one. Its time to come home period.

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