Calls controversy over McChrystal's comments 'comical'

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has developed a reputation for political gaffes, but his words at a Republican fundraiser Thursday are being described as "the biggest gaffe of all."

Speaking to a crowd of Connecticut Republicans about the Afghanistan war, Steele said, "Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in."

Steele went on to say that President Obama was "trying to be cute" when he argued during the 2008 presidential campaign that the Iraq war was a distraction from the anti-terrorist effort in Afghanistan.

"Well, if [Obama is] 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?" Steele asked. "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."

Steele also said he found the controversy over Gen. Stanley McChrystal's disparaging comments about the Obama administration "comical."

"It's a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders have with this administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan," he said.

The notion that the Afghanistan war, which was launched in October, 2001, by the Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, was "a war of Obama's choosing" stunned political observers and angered Steele's GOP allies.

In a letter to Steele, prominent Republican pundit Bill Kristol called on the RNC chairman to resign.

"Needless to say, the war in Afghanistan was not 'a war of Obama’s choosing.' It has been prosecuted by the United States under Presidents Bush and Obama. Republicans have consistently supported the effort. Indeed, as the DNC Communications Director (of all people) has said, your statement 'puts [you] at odds with about 100 percent of the Republican Party,'" Kristol wrote.

"Your comment is more than an embarrassment," Kristol wrote. "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."

Those words were echoed by conservative blogger Erick Erickson, who wrote that "Steele must resign" because "he has lost all moral authority to lead the GOP."

But the RNC itself has come to Steele's defense, telling TalkingPointsMemo's Eric Kleefeld that "Chairman Steele wants to hear an explanation from President Obama on what his strategy is for winning the war in Afghanistan." The statement, by spokesman Doug Heye, added that "Congress must stop playing politics with the war and provide the funding our troops need to win and come home."

In an interesting twist, the Democratic National Committee sent out comments Friday that echoed Republican talking points on Afghanistan as much as Steele's echoed Democratic ones.

Steele is "betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan," DNC spokesman Brad Wiidhouse said in a statement. "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."

Chris Good at the Atlantic describes Steele's comments as "blatantly disconnected from historical fact."

Yes, Obama did demonize Iraq in favor of Afghanistan, as war efforts go; yes, occupations of Afghanistan have failed before; yes, there may be other ways to influence Afghanistan through diplomacy and geopolitics (Vice President Biden has suggested some of these). But George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan, and fewer than 10 percent of Americans opposed his decision to do so.

Doug Mataconis at OutsideTheBeltway argues that Steele was speaking for a growing number of Republicans who are becoming increasingly concerned about the US's chances for victory in Afghanistan.

"George Will said pretty much the same thing [as Steele], albeit much more eloquently than Steele, back in September," Mataconis writes. "And earlier this year, The Cato Institute hosted a forum in which several conservative intellectuals and Members of Congress essentially endorsed the idea that America needed to drastically scale back its involvement in Afghanistan. So to say that Steele is bucking his own party on this issue simply isn’t true."

The following video was posted to YouTube, July 1, 2010.