WASHINGTON (AP) – Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele says Afghanistan is “a war of Obama’s choosing” and the conflict “is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” comments that drew an immediate rebuke from Democrats and a call from at least one Republican for him to resign.
In remarks captured Thursday on camera and posted online, Steele criticized President Barack Obama and his handling of the nine-year-old war begun by Republican President George W. Bush in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“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’s tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed,” Steele said. “And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan.”
Republican officials confirmed Steele made the comments at a Connecticut fundraiser, which was closed to the media. The remarks, at odds with many in the Republican Party, were caught on camera and posted on the Web.
“This was a war of Obama’s choosing,” Steele said. “This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”
The United States and allies overthrew Afghanistan’s Taliban government after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The war lagged as the United States shifted its focus to Iraq, but Obama shifted the focus to Afghanistan and planned to send 30,000 more troops to the country.
Looking to mitigate the political fallout, Steele issued a statement Friday, saying, “There is no question that America must win the war on terror. … And, for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.”
He said, “The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.”
Steele’s comments came as Obama’s new chief in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, arrived in the country Friday to take over the war. Obama last week dismissed his previous commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, after he made disparaging comments about his superiors in a Rolling Stone interview.
Steele called the dismissal “very comical” but said it shows the frustration members of the military have with Obama.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said it was “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.”
Conservative Bill Kristol, writing for The Weekly Standard, said Steele should resign.
“There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they’re certainly entitled to make their case,” wrote Kristol, a consistent supporter of the Afghanistan war. “But one of them shouldn’t be the chairman of the Republican Party.”
RNC spokesman Doug Heye said in a statement that Steele “clearly supports our troops but believes that success of the war effort in Afghanistan requires the ongoing support of the American people,” RNC spokesman Doug Heye said in a statement. “The responsibility for building and maintaining that strategy falls squarely on the shoulders of the president.”
Steele has been prone to gaffes that have enraged congressional Republicans. In the last year, he predicted the GOP won’t win House control this fall. He also drew GOP ire when he criticized fellow Republicans in a book that party leaders didn’t know he was writing until it was published. His GOP critics were irked further when he told them to “get a life” and “shut up.”
Earlier this year, his oversight of the RNC was called into question because of lavish spending, including money to entertain donors at a lesbian bondage club in Los Angeles.
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