Steele’s Afghanistan criticism highlights Democrats’ mixed message on war

Michael Steele’s criticism of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan
may be creating a headache for the Republican National Committee, but it’s also
shining a spotlight on the Democrats’ mixed message on the war.

The Democratic National Committee pounced on the RNC’s
chairman’s comments at a GOP fundraiser, accusing Steele of “betting against
our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan.”

{mosads}Just hours earlier, however, a majority of the House
Democratic caucus voted to require a timeline for the withdrawal of American
troops from Afghanistan and to restrict funding if President Barack Obama
deviates from his drawdown plan.

The vote came on one of three antiwar amendments to an
appropriations bill providing $33 billion in funding for the war. Liberal
Democrats demanded the opportunity to register their opposition to the war, and
the least restrictive measure, offered by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and
David Obey (D-Wis.) garnered 153 Democratic votes. Ninety-eight Democrats voted
against it. A stricter proposal that would provide funding only for a
withdrawal of troops won 93 Democratic votes, while 22 Democrats supported a
third measure that would have stripped the war funding entirely.

While the House ultimately voted to approve the war funding
without conditions, the amendments underscored the deep divisions within the
Democratic Party over Afghanistan policy.

In his comments caught on camera at a fundraiser in
Connecticut, Steele said Afghanistan was “a war of Obama’s choosing” and “not
something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.” He
also questioned Obama’s strategy. “If he’s such a student of history,” Steele
said, “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.”

The DNC jumped on the remarks, sending out more than two
dozen e-mails to its press list highlighting coverage and criticism of Steele.
It’s a strategy the Democrats have employed with success in recent weeks, as
they have sought to exploit controversial statements and gaffes by leading
Republican Reps. John Boehner (Ohio) and Joe Barton (Tex.).

“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,” the DNC communications director, Brad Woodhouse, 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.”

Steele later issued a statement saying he supports the
president’s strategy in Afghanistan. “The stakes are too high for us to accept
anything less but success in Afghanistan,” he said.

Democratic officials pointed out the DNC is functionally the
political arm of the White House and responsible for advocating the president’s
policies. They also argued there was a difference between House members urging
Obama to put forward a timeline for withdrawal and Steele’s comments, which
they characterized as tantamount to calling the war unwinnable.

An RNC spokeswoman declined to comment on the DNC attack,
referring instead to Steele’s statement giving his full backing to the war

Tags Barack Obama Boehner John Boehner

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