Peace Action West News

Michael Steele’s “gaffe” and the “betting against our troops” canard

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s comments last week at a fundraiser in Connecticut about the war in Afghanistan received a lot of criticism from both parties, with some prominent Republicans calling for his resignation. While some of his comments were off the mark—he said the war is  “not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” seemingly forgetting the Bush administration, on other points he was right on. Obama had a choice when he became President, and he chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Steele was also right in saying that there are better ways of dealing with Afghanistan and that this war is not worth fighting:

“Well, if [Obama]’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 has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan.”

Michael Steele’s remarks were not that outrageous, coming from someone who seems to have a reputation of blurting out comments that put him at odds with his own party. Yet the aggressive reaction coming from Democratic National Committee spokesperson Brad Woodhouse, is surely doing more damage than good. He had this to say about Steele’s comments:

“Here goes Michael Steele setting policy for the GOP again. The likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be interested to hear that the Republican Party position is that we should walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job. They’d also be interested to hear that the Chairman of the Republican Party thinks we have no business in Afghanistan notwithstanding the fact that we are there because we were attacked by terrorists on 9-11.
“And, the American people will be interested to hear that the leader of the Republican Party thinks recent events related to the war are ‘comical’ and that he is betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan. 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.”

By recycling tired and reprehensible Republican talking points, he is reinforcing the dangerous idea that criticizing the war undermines our troops and is somehow unpatriotic. In a shortsighted attempt to give Republicans a taste of their own medicine, Woodhouse demonstrated yet again why Democrats continue to be on the defensive on foreign policy. Democrats should welcome vigorous debate and reframe what a smart and effective foreign policy looks like.  It is unlikely that anything was gained for the DNC in this fleeting exchange, but they lost another opportunity to establish their credentials and went for the cheap political points. Does Woodhouse think the Democrats who voted for a timeline for withdrawal last week are betting against our troops?

There are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda members left in Afghanistan and we do not need 100,000 troops there to “finish the job”.

With all this partisan squabbling let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are in this unwinnable war which is putting our soldiers’ lives at risk, depleting our country of its wealth, and making us less safe. This current strategy in Afghanistan is doomed to failure and the smart thing to do is end the war.

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