In Defense of Michael Steele

Member Group : Nathan Shrader

Criticism from within his party is nothing new for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. The former Maryland Lieutenant Governor and 2006 U.S. Senate candidate has come under fire over the last year and a half for claiming that Rush Limbaugh’s rhetoric borders on "incendiary," strip club charges racked up by RNC staffers, and stating that abortion is a personal choice.

Steele may have been able to weather the firestorm of condemnation from Rush’s Zombies, but will he have the fortitude to endure the onslaught of attacks from the strange cacophony of pro-war Democrats and neoconservatives like Senators Lindsay Graham and Jim DeMint, war hawk Charles Krauthammer, pandering bloggers, and Israel-firster Bill Kristol?

The source of the outrage is a videotape obtained late last week showing Steele in the midst of an attack on the Obama administration’s war policy in Afghanistan. Specifically, Steele commented that the war is one of "Obama’s choosing" He went on to comment that "… has he [Obama] not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do—is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed."

The Democratic National Committee soon pounced, avenging nearly a decade of attacks against their candidates and elected officials who dared criticize the Bush war policies. The aforementioned neoconservatives laid into Steele with their typical "you can’t question any war, anytime" approach, suggesting in Kristol’s words that Steele’s comments represented "an affront, both to the honor of the Republican Party and to the commitment of the soldiers."

What falsehoods did Steele actually propagate within the text of his comments? The answer is none. First, any study of history proves true the statement that nations which have tried to impose their will on Afghanistan through land wars have been expelled or worn down by the tenacity of the Afghan people. The United States is no exception to the rule. Second, while the initiation of the war in Afghanistan may not have been Obama’s decision, the prolongation of it certainly is.

Most importantly the American public sides with the positions advanced by Steele. A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll conducted from June 29-30 indicates that 62 percent support the U.S. military’s work in Afghanistan. However, 58 percent do not believe there is any chance in achieving stability in the region. The public supports the troops but doubts the probability of the desired outcomes.

A USA Today/Gallup poll released just days prior determined that 65 percent either favor the current timetable for withdraw or wish to see it expedited. Similar polls such as the June 3-4 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 53 percent believe that the Afghan conflict is no longer worth fighting and a June 22-23 Newsweek survey show that a meager 26 percent feel that the United States is "winning" in Afghanistan.

The attack on Steele demonstrates the enduring strength of the War Party in Washington, which stands guard in absolute defense of any military action and waits to demean, deride, and denigrate any politician, journalist, expert, or academic who dares question the status quo. Steele is no anti-war activist nor should anyone expect him to pat Republicans like Jimmy Duncan and Ron Paul or Democrats like Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee on the back for their opposition to increased war funding. However, Steele has learned his lesson the hard way.

I paraphrase my good friend John Jakomas in saying that "the whale who spouts first is sure to be harpooned." Steele’s comments run in contrast to the pro-war, more war orthodoxy that dominates the neoconservative establishment and now the Obama White House. His infraction wasn’t that he misspoke or told a lie, instead his blunder was straying from the hackneyed stay the course mindset that has permeated the press, the pols, and the punditry.

Earlier this summer the nation quietly passed two disconcerting milestones. First, in early June we reached the trillion dollar expense threshold. This means that the combined cost for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars since their inception in 2001 finally hit the 13 figure mark, rendering them a titanic drain on the economy and a clear cause for the country’s fiscal doldrums. For the record, the combined cost of both wars was $1,013,676,773,417.00 as of July 5, 2010. Second, on May 27 it was reported that the number of American military men and women dead as a result of the Afghanistan war had passed the 1,000 mark.

Michael Steele may not be committed to getting out of Afghanistan (or Iraq for that matter) and perhaps never have expected his criticisms to be aired in public. Regardless, his comments represent the most sensible utterances from anyone at the RNC regarding war policy in years. Afghanistan is adrift in a sea of confusion, fragmentation, and failure. The public knows it. President Bush bears the bulk of the war’s burden and President Obama is responsible for its escalation. The one trillion dollar price tag and the thousand-plus military dead belong to all of us for staying silent for too long. Steele was right to speak up. It’s just sad to see the truth get harpooned.

Nathan Shrader can be reached at [email protected]