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Friday, July 2, 2010

GOP chairman Steele: Afghan 'war of Obama's choosing'

By Susan Davis

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is once again caught in the crosshairs, this time over comments he made regarding the war in Afghanistan in which he calls it “a war of Obama’s choosing.”

He adds: “This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”

The comments, at a fund-raiser in Connecticut, were captured on video and posted on YouTube Thursday. Steele also suggests that the war itself is unwinnable, stating that President Barack Obama doesn’t understand the history of the region.

“Everyone who has tried, over 1,000 years of history, has failed and there are reasons for that. There are other ways you could engage in Afghanistan,” he said.

Conservative commentator William Kristol immediately called for Steele to resign.

“At a time when Gen. [David] Petraeus has just taken over command, when Republicans in Congress are pushing for a clean war funding resolution, when Republicans around the country are doing their best to rally their fellow citizens behind the mission, your comment is more than an embarrassment. It’s an affront, both to the honor of the Republican Party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting to accomplish the mission they’ve been asked to take on by our elected leaders,” he writes in a post at The Weekly Standard.

Steele released a statement in which he walked back his comments and voices support for the war.

“There is no question that America must win the war on terror,” he said. “During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear his belief that we should not fight in Iraq, but instead concentrate on Afghanistan. Now, as President, he has indeed shifted his focus to this region. That means this is his strategy. And, for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.”

The RNC staff sought to tamp down the controversy—ill-timed ahead of the July 4 holiday—by circulating a memo to reporters highlighting the chairman’s support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The memo is title: “RNC Chairman Michael Steele Has Been A Consistent, Vocal Supporter Of The Wars In Afghanistan And Iraq.”

It may not be enough to appease conservatives, many of whom are already tired of Steele’s lengthy record of verbal gaffes and fund-raising controversies since he took over the party committee in January 2009.

“The war in Afghanistan is not a war of Barack Obama’s choosing. It is a war of Al Qaeda and the Taliban’s choosing. We responded. Michael Steele must resign. He has lost all moral authority to lead the GOP,” Erick Erickson of RedState.com, a popular conservative blog, wrote this afternoon.

The Democratic National Committee worked Friday to highlight Steele’s remarks. “It’s simply unconscionable that Michael Steele would undermine the morale of our troops when what they need is our support and encouragement. Michael Steele would do well to remember that we are not in Afghanistan by our own choosing, that we were attacked and that his words have consequences,” said spokesman Brad Woodhouse.

The White House has not yet offered any comment on Steele’s remarks.

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