There is a lot to catch up after the last week away, but I thought I would start by saying a few things about Michael Steele’s Afghanistan remarks. They have predictably drawn the ire of Bill Kristol, who has called for Steele’s resignation, but Steele’s continued tenure at the RNC doesn’t interest me very much. What I do find interesting is how the utterly shameless, reflexive Republican opposition to everything Obama touches has finally run into the brick wall of one issue that most Republicans and mainstream conservatives consider to be completely non-negotiable. Incorrigible misrepresentation of every other foreign policy initiative Obama undertakes is permitted, but staking out a relatively less hawkish position than the administration is simply not tolerated.
Obviously Steele’s Afghanistan comments are not derived from any serious principled objection to an American presence in Afghanistan, and they certainly don’t reflect any fundamental opposition to foreign entanglements. As far as I can tell, Steele has rarely given these questions any attention at all until now, and he was a reliable backer of the Iraq war all along just like virtually every other aspiring Republican office-seeker and elected official. Steele evidently believes that Afghanistan is now a political liability for Obama, and he wants to take advantage of this, but far from being a potential “turning point” it is just another example of how clueless and hopeless Steele is when it comes to serving in a leadership capacity for Republicans. I can hardly wait to hear how Steele’s cynical posturing is another sign of the rise of antiwar Republicanism.
However, even if Steele were sincere and principled in his objections, it would be important to explain why he is wrong. It is true that last year Obama chose to increase the number of soldiers in Afghanistan, where the war effort had been chronically under-manned and under-resourced for most of the last decade, but this has been the one war in the last fifteen years that the U.S. did not choose to enter. It probably grates on many Republicans that the one war that comes closest to anything resembling a just or necessary war in the last decade is the one that they quite deliberately starved of resources and manpower. It is also probably discomforting that they did this to pursue a war in Iraq that has consumed far more lives, both American and Iraqi, and which had not even the remotest connection to American interests. Steele says that there are “other ways to engage in Afghanistan,” which confirms that he has no desire to disengage fully from the country, but if other “antiwar” Republican arguments are anything to go by he means that we should bombard Afghanistan from afar and hope for the best. Steele doesn’t really mean what he’s saying, but even if he did we shouldn’t take it seriously.