Recently at an RNC fundraiser in Noank, CT, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele made comments regarding Afghanistan that have caused members within the Republican Party to call for his resignation as committee chair. In addition, the cited statement has been interpreted to mean that Steele is both against the war in Afghanistan and that our presence there has been the sole decision of President Barack Obama. My opinion is that his phrasing was inarticulate and pandering at best but that his actual statement was wildly misinterpreted.

Here’s the statement in its entirety: “The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. I think it’s a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. 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 was at least?] 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 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? Alright, 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 part of the above statement that is causing the most controversy and I believe is the most misunderstood is, “…this is a war of Obama’s choosing.” Of course upon hearing this many conservatives and others went right for the most literal translation of that sentence as if Michael Steele is an imbecile with no concept of time. Critics on both sides of the aisle immediately assumed he meant that President Obama chose to declare war on Afghanistan all by his lonesome and conveniently forgot that President Bush was the first one to send troops into Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Let’s not be so obtuse. What he obviously meant, and this is true, is that while campaigning for the presidency, Senator Obama said on countless occasions that we were in the wrong war, meaning Iraq. He stated over and over again that President Bush had taken his eye off the ball by attacking Iraq and that if we elected Barack Obama president, he would make Afghanistan the priority. Steele is simply stating the obvious, that President Obama “chose” Afghanistan to not only be the priority but that he would, “…add two U.S. combat brigades, 7,000 fighters and support staff, and would provide an additional $1 billion in non-military assistance for Afghanistan.” In other words he planned to increase the amount of resources in Afghanistan while diverting the resources committed to Iraq. I would say that all of the above does in fact make this Obama’s war of choosing, just as Steele said it was.

The next line is not getting as much attention in the media but in the minds of Steele’s conservative critics, adds fuel to the fire. Steele stated that, “This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.” This is too general of a statement and its validity depends on whom you are talking about. I interpret “the United States” as the Bush White House, not the population at large. In the sense that the Bush Administration didn’t fully commit to Afghanistan the way they did to Iraq, this is an absolutely true statement. Not only is it true, it was an item Barack Obama used to bludgeon John McCain with during the 2008 Presidential campaign. As I stated above, Obama stated that resources were wrongfully committed to Iraq when they should have been committed to Afghanistan. But forget about Obama for a moment and let’s talk about the Bush Administration. Bob Woodward wrote in his books detailing the events after 9/11 concerning Afghanistan and Iraq that Secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld didn’t want to be in Afghanistan either. At the National Security briefing following the 9/11 attacks, he was quoted as saying that there are no targets in Afghanistan to hit so the better response is to attack Iraq. Dick Cheney agreed with him at the time. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice both thought he was nuts and that attacking Iraq at that time would be ill-timed at best and fraudulent at most. In the end, President Bush agreed with the latter and not the former of advice so into Afghanistan we went.

Steele knows all of this and encapsulated these events by adding, “It was one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy [that was at least?] that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops.” In other words, we would send in just enough troops and resources to oust the Taliban and allow for a new government to form and take over. Furthermore, the idea was to train a new Afghan army and let them take over the brunt of the fighting. The question of whether or not this was a sound strategy is not being argued here. What Steele is suggesting and what I am saying is that the Bush Administration was not particularly committed to Afghanistan as they were attempting to do something, anything after 9/11 to make it look like we were responding to Al Qaeda. Steele is simply being crucified for reminding everyone that the Bush Administration cared more about declaring war on Iraq (for whatever its reasons were) than it did finishing the job (whatever that was) in Afghanistan. And again, look to Obama’s foreign policy speeches or editorials in the NY Times for proof that many in this country believed exactly what Michael Steele is talking about.

Lastly, the dog pile on Steele is mostly being driven by this final comment; “has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, 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…” As I said in my column about the abuse suffered by Afghani children, this war isn’t winnable, in the conventional sense. In order to “win” we will have to be there until the country is modernized enough to defend and govern itself. That’s a 50-year commitment at least. To win is to basically adopt Afghanistan as the 51st quasi-state and then turn it over to its people when the appropriate time comes. Even doing that may not have the desired result we are looking for (Philippines, I am looking in your direction). Steele is referencing Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires because everybody knows its true. But intellectually dishonest and opportunistic conservatives can’t admit that because then the only two pillars they have left to rest their campaigns on are spending and moral authority and both cases, many are at best skeptical that the GOP has any candidates willing to live up to the rhetoric.

Michael Steele may be a lot of things but in this instance he’s being honest and the only reason why he’s being asked to resign is because his cohorts in the Republican Party can’t handle the truth when it hurts their causes and campaigns. Furthermore, I realize he’s back peddled and that his explanation doesn’t match my defense but in all honesty, my defense would probably cause him more harm than good. With that said, I’m not interested in him keeping his job, I’m here to be as intellectually honest as possible even when my party refuses to be.

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