As John noted yesterday, RNC chairman Michael Steele is in hot water over comments he made concerning the war in Afghanistan. Steele said that the war there is of “Obama’s choosing,” and suggested that it’s not winnable. Later, he backed away from these remarks.
Actually, Steele was not entirely off base on the merits. Afghanistan is a war of President Obama’s choosing. It’s true, of course, that President Bush started the war. However, Obama conducted a thorough review. During that review he considered the option of not engaging in a ground war, but rather using targeted air strikes. Presumably, he also considered abandoning Afghanistan entirely. Having rejected those options and elected to escalate the ground war, the engagement there is of Obama’s choosing.
It’s also possible that the war is not winnable. Indeed, it seems probable to me that the war cannot be won on Obama’s timetable.
The larger point is whether Republicans, having supported Obama’s decision to expand the war effort, should place the war in Afghanistan off-limits politically so long as Obama maintains his resolve to fight it. Democratic politicians certainly felt no compunction about jumping ship on the Iraq war despite having voted, in many cases, in favor of the invasion. Republicans should not be that cynical. However, to my knowledge, Republican leaders did not participate in the formulation of Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan, nor did Obama follow the mainstream Republican prescription for the war. Instead, his strategy compromised the aggressive approach most Republicans favored by using fewer troops and inserting various “off-ramps.”
Accordingly, Obama owns the war now, and Republicans have the option of criticizing his conduct of it.
None of this means that Steele acted properly, though. No Republican consensus has emerged that Obama’s conduct of the war should be criticized at this time. To the contrary, the consensus now seems to be to give Obama the support that increasingly is lacking from his own party.
It is not Steele’s role to get out in front of his party on substantive issues. But, as I have often written, Steele simply cannot resist the role of pundit.
There’s not much point in calling on Steele to resign. He’s not going anywhere right now. But we can look forward to a time in the not-too-distant future, when Steele will be able fully to indulge his inner-pundit without embarrassing the RNC and his party.
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