The Real Sin of Michael Steele

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“This was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”

Strictly speaking, Republican Party Chair Michael Steele was way off base when he made this remark at a closed-door meeting of party contributors in Connecticut.

For the war began in 2001 under George W. Bush and was backed by almost all Americans, who collectively cheered the downfall of the Taliban and the rout of al-Qaida from its sanctuary in Afghanistan.

Yet, Steele was not entirely wrong.

Today, a majority of Americans do not believe the nine-year war in Afghanistan is any longer worth the rising cost in blood and money. And by declaring it a “war of necessity” and tripling U.S. forces there, this president has made it “Obama’s war” every bit as much as LBJ in 1964 and 1965 made Vietnam “Johnson’s War.”

While Steele has spent every waking hour since his words hit the airwaves explaining, and declaring his commitment to victory, of far more interest is the alacrity with which neoconservatives piled on the chairman, demanding his resignation, while senators castigated him for remarks unacceptable for a Republican Party leader.

William Kristol’s demand for Steele’s resignation was echoed by Charles Krauthammer and Liz Cheney, daughter of the vice president. From Afghanistan, Steele was attacked by Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who suggested he think again about his capacity to lead the Republican National Committee.

Behind the swiftness and severity of the attacks on one of their own by Republican pundits and politicians are motives more serious and sinister than exasperation at another gaffe by Michael Steele.

The War Party is conducting this pre-emptive strike on Steele to send a message to dissenters. In Krauthammer’s phrase, it is now a “capital offense” for a Republican leader not to support the Obama troop surge and the Obama-Petraeus policy.

Yet, a majority of Americans oppose the Afghan war. And the point made by Steele about the futility of fighting in Afghanistan has been made by columnists George Will and Tony Blankley, ex-Rep. Joe Scarborough, Ron Paul, and antiwar conservatives and moderates.

When exactly did supporting Obama’s war policy become a litmus test for loyal Republicans?

What the War Party is up to here is a naked attempt to impose its orthodoxy, about the threat of “Islamofascism” and the Long War, on the entire GOP, 28 months before a presidential election.

Republicans of all persuasions should recoil at such arrogance.

For whence does it come, if not the same hawks and neocons who beat the drums for a unnecessary war on Iraq that cost 4,000 U.S. dead, 35,000 wounded and $700 billion, while making widows and orphans of half a million Iraqis?

And what was that all about? Invading and occupying a country that never attacked us — to strip it of weapons it did not have.

Certainly, as the last nominee of the Republican Party, McCain can claim to be titular leader, as could George W. Bush, or Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner.

But, if memory serves, the Bush-McCain party was repudiated in landslides in 2006 and 2008, giving Democrats the presidency, the House and a veto-proof Senate. And high among the reasons the country turned on the GOP is that, like Harry Truman and LBJ, the Bush-McCain GOP marched us into wars they could not win and could not end.

This campaign to censure and remove Steele is designed to censor debate and stifle dissent on Obama’s war policy, as long as Obama’s war policy closely tracks the agenda of the War Party.

Should Obama declare that he intends to stand by his deadline and begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by July 2011, those Republicans today accusing Steele of not supporting the troops and undercutting the president in wartime would themselves begin undercutting the president.

In November, the Republican Party will make gains. But the party will be deluding itself if it assumes this means America wants a return to the interventionist policies that brought us the Iraq and Afghan wars. The country will simply be saying: We reject Obama’s liberalism as emphatically as we rejected Bush neoconservatism.

Most Americans today approve of the agreed-upon end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq by August and removal of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011, just as they support an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, starting a year from now.

But to contend that those who want the withdrawals to begin sooner, or those who want them to begin later, are unpatriotic and do not support the troops is itself unpatriotic.

The time for Republicans to decide on what the foreign policy of the party and a new administration should be is in the primaries of 2012. Until then, let every voice be heard, including that of Michael Steele.

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