Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, whose remarks suggesting the U.S. will lose the war in Afghanistan have prompted some Republicans to demand his resignation, won praise from Representative Ron Paul.
“Michael Steele should not resign,” Paul, a Texas Republican and former Libertarian Party presidential candidate, said yesterday in a statement. “Michael Steele has it right and Republicans should stick by him.”
Speaking at a Republican fundraising event in Connecticut on July 1, Steele said the conflict in Afghanistan “was a war of Obama’s choosing” and “is not something that the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.” Since then, several prominent conservative leaders have called for his resignation.
With nationwide unemployment at 9.5 percent in June, Republicans are trying to regain control of Congress from Democrats in November’s midterm elections. They are contending with intra-party challenges from candidates supported by Tea Party activists who promote limited government.
In May, Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite and son of Ron Paul, won the Republican Senate nomination in Kentucky against a candidate backed by Kentucky’s Republican establishment, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Liz Cheney Disappointed
Republican Liz Cheney, daughter of former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and head of a group called Keep America Safe, said in a statement July 2 that Steele’s Afghanistan comments were “deeply disappointing and wrong” and that “it is time for Chairman Steele to step down.”
The U.S. will reassess its Afghanistan strategy in December and is trying to train enough Afghan soldiers and police to allow a withdrawal of U.S. troops there beginning in July 2011. President Barack Obama last year authorized the deployment of 30,000 additional troops in an effort to halt a resurgence of the Taliban that has increased U.S. and allied combat deaths to the fastest pace of the nine-year war, the longest in American history.
Conservative commentator Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, published an open letter to Steele on July 2. “I ask you to consider, over this July 4 weekend, doing an act of service for the country you love: Resign as chairman of the Republican Party,” Kristol wrote. “There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they’re certainly entitled to make their case. But one of them shouldn’t be the chairman of the Republican Party.”
Some Republican lawmakers, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, oppose the troop drawdown slated to begin next July. McCain last week said a timetable leaves “our troops on the ground in some ways confused about what the long-term strategy will be,” and the Taliban insurgents “think we’re going to leave.”
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” program scheduled to air tomorrow, Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, said, “This one-year deadline is weighing down on every commander’s shoulders,” according to a transcript.
Success in the war effort will depend on “whether the Afghanistan government can stand up and provide basic necessities for those folks in the outlying areas,” Republican Representative John Boccieri of Ohio said on the same program.
Steele also drew Democratic criticism for his comments. “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,” Brad Woodhouse, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said July 2 in a statement.
Steele on July 1 said, referring to Obama, “if he’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? Because everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that.”
Steele clarified his July 1 remarks July 2 by saying, “The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.” In the same statement he said that “for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.”
The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. by al-Qaeda, which had been given a safe haven by the militant Islamic Taliban that then controlled the country.