Did Steele Go Wobbly?

July 2nd, 2010 at 2:15 pm David Frum | 52 Comments |

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So I feel like an idiot.

About a week ago, one of the young staffers here proposed an article: “What happens if Republicans bug out on Afghanistan?” I nixed it. “Let’s not deal with hypotheticals.” Oops.

Michael Steele’s Afghanistan-skeptical comments seem to have been unscripted, but who knows. FrumForum’s Tim Mak placed an immediate call to the RNC to ask whether the chairman had perhaps been misunderstood or had possibly misspoken. The RNC had no comment. The comment is not being walked back, not today anyway.

Some thoughts in reply:

1) The time to make the case against an enhanced commitment to Afghanistan was a year ago, before that commitment was made. Back then, however, Republicans almost unanimously supported the president’s decision. Indeed Republicans pressed the president to make the decision and upbraided him for taking too long. Karl Rove and Sarah Palin, among others, myself included, signed a letter pledging bipartisan support for an Afghan surge. Back then, as I remember it, the main Republican criticism of the president was that he should not have mentioned a deadline for the Afghan surge.

2) Maybe as time passes people change their minds. Fine. But if they do change their minds, they should acknowledge that is what they have done. They should not revise history so that a strategy that was broadly supported by all becomes “Obama’s war.”

3) Maybe the strategy is genuinely wrong. Maybe the Afghanistan commitment is not worth the costs. Maybe instituting a stable central government in Afghanistan is an over-ambitious project. Again: fine. But with the guns firing, that’s a point of view to advocate in a serious and considered way, as part of a debate over national interests, not to score political points. The debate should be aimed at finding a resolution in Afghanistan that is maximally successful for the U.S. and partners, not the way that is maximally humiliating to the president. Obama may fail in Afghanistan. But if he does, the whole country fails with him.

UPDATE: It looks like the RNC may walk back on Steele’s Afghanistan comments.

From Steele spokesperson Doug Heye:

Keep in mind, nowhere has Chairman Steele said or suggested that we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan, that we can’t win or that he didn’t support the surge.  Statement coming.

Posted at 2:26pm

UPDATE: I just had a follow-up conversation with the RNC’s communications team. They made two firm points:

First, when Michael Steele described the war in Afghanistan as Obama’s war, he was making a point about political risk: the president receives the credit or blame for success or failure in combat operations.

Second, that Steele remains as always a firm supporter of U.S. military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq. RNC has provided us with a summary of Steele’s statements on the issue over recent months:

RNC Chairman Michael Steele Has Been A Consistent, Vocal Supporter Of The Wars In Afghanistan And Iraq

*    *    *

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “’If the president remains committed to this crucial fight, Republicans and the American people will stand with him. (“Reaction To Obama’s Afghanistan War Plans,” The Associated Press, 12/2/09)

Steele: “We agree with President Obama that ‘we have to win’ in Afghanistan and make sure that our commanders on the ground have the troops and resources they need.

·         Steele: “Rallying the nation requires the Commander in Chief to stand strong and speak out for why we are fighting there.” (Press Release, “Stand Strong, Mr. President,” Republican National Committee, 9/1/09)

·         “As The Public Turns Against The War Afghanistan, Even Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele On Tuesday Found Himself Urging Obama To ‘Stand Strong And Speak Out.’” (Dana Milbank, “If Death Panels Were Real, This Measure Might Need One,” The Washington Post, 09/04/09)

In September 2009, Steele Called On Obama To Use UN Security Council Meeting To “Talk About How The Nations Of The World Can Come Together To Fight Global Terror In Places Like Iraq And Afghanistan.” RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “Today is a wasted opportunity by President Obama. Instead of using this historic moment as the first American president to chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to talk about how the nations of the world can come together to fight global terror in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama has decided to instead engage in the politics of concession and weaken America’s security. It looks like George McGovern has finally won an election.” (RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Press Release, 9/24/09)

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “Our Country Needs The President’s Undivided Attention On The Urgent Issues … [Including] Winning The War In Afghanistan.” “While I am disappointed with the IOC’s decision, I look forward to the President returning stateside so that he can refocus his efforts on the growing unemployment crisis that was highlighted by today’s monthly jobs report. Our country needs the President’s undivided attention on the urgent issues facing American families today: rising unemployment, soaring health care costs, winning the war in Afghanistan and dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat.” (Michael Steele, Press Release, 10/2/09)

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “The Ultimate Goal [Is] Winning This War In Afghanistan.” “At the end of the day, though, you have to listen to what the generals are saying. They’re boots on the ground. They are in the hunt, if you will, and know best how to get the ultimate goal of winning this war in Afghanistan.” (CNN’s “The Situation Room,” 10/24/09)

·         Steele: “So I appreciate the president taking this approach and really trying to find the smartest way to win this thing. And it starts by listening to those generals and giving them the support that they need.” (CNN’s “The Situation Room,” 10/24/09)

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: We Have To Break Up Terrorism “Where It Is Started.” “[T]errorism is a natural part of what goes on in this world. And you have got forces out there that are coming after Americans, coming after Europeans, Asians. I mean, this is a global terror network… And how many more times do we have to have near-misses like this before someone recognizes the value of intelligence-gathering, the value of — of breaking up this operation where it is started, in the Middle East and elsewhere?… And — and, so, I am hoping, tonight, that, once again, our Republican candidates for president can put forth a clear vision of what their leadership will mean and the difference it will make when they become president.” (FOX News’ “Your World With Neil Cavuto,” 9/5/07)

Steele Criticized Senator Clinton; Said We Must Remain Committed To War In Afghanistan And Not Pullout Prematurely. “What Hillary is not saying at the end of all that is when I am president of the United States, American troops are not coming home in six months. American troops are going to be on the ground in Afghanistan, they are going to be on the ground in Iraq. Because this process is an unwieldy one. It is one in which we still have to make certain that the government there is established and functional and the United States cannot afford under any circumstances under any administration to pull them out.” (FOX Hannity & Colmes, 8/21/07)

In 2006, Steel Described Iraq As “A Beachhead Of Democracy.” ““MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the war has been worth the price we’ve paid in lives and costs? LT. GOV. STEELE: I think the war has been worth it to the extent that what we’re trying to establish there is a beachhead of democracy. We want — when we walk out of Iraq, when we — when the last soldier leaves — and this is the question everyone needs to ask themselves — what do we want? Do we want an Iraq that’s an ally of the United States, or do we want an Iraq that is an enemy of the United States? And I think we want an — want an ally, so it’s been worth it to us to establish this beachhead of democracy and, and an allow — ally in an area where we’ve had some trouble in the past.” (NBC’s “Meet The Press,” 10/29/06)

·         Steele: “That is absolutely amazing to me to have a member of the United States Congress sit here and say that he would vote for — if, if his party gets control of the Congress, that you would vote for cutting off funding for our troops in Iraq; men and women who are putting it on the line every single day. Your own words.” (Tim Russert’s “Meet the Press,” 10/29/06)

In 2006, Steele Argued Timetables For Withdrawal Only Play Into “The Hands Of Our Enemies Who Have An Enormous Capacity To Wait.’” “Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the Republican nominee who has backed Bush’s Iraq policy, maintains that timetables for withdrawal only play into ‘the hands of our enemies who have an enormous capacity to wait.’ He has been sharply critical of Cardin’s call for a pullout. ‘I want to know what Iraq looks like on the day after the last troop leaves,’ said Steele last week on WOLB radio, ‘because I don’t want our boys and girls to go back. I want to get it done.’” (Paul West, “Iraq War is Key Point Of Dispute In Senate Race,” The Baltimore Sun, 10/19/06)

At 2004 Republican National Convention, Michael Steele:Most Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats voted to give our combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan the funding necessary for things like body armor, but not John Kerry.” (“Remarks By Maryland Lt. Gov. Steele To The National Republican Convention,” The Washington Post, 8/31/04)

Posted at 3:10pm

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52 Comments so far ↓

  • Chris

    I think Quanta hits it. Imagine if Bush had actually been criticized for not being conservative enough?

    Also, I’m not sure why being criticized for not being liberal enough is a faux-criticism that doesn’t count (and I remember a LOT of that). I’m not sure why you’d expect Obama to be criticized because he’s not not right wing enough. Not that this doesn’t also happen — see just about any political fight he’s had caused by the Blue-dog Democrats in right-leaning states.

  • Chris

    Attacks on Obama from the left? Go no further than the new post here at FF: