GOP's Steele Calls Afghanistan A War Of 'Obama's Choosing'; Dems Pounce

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Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele speaks during a news conference on Republican efforts to stop the Democratic health care legislation at RNC Headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 14, 2009.

Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele calls Afghanistan a "war of Obama's choosing," leading some to remind him that the war has been going on for nine years.

Remember how President Obama and the Democrats were flailing in the response to the BP oil spill, until Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas) came and rescued them with his "shakedown" comment and apology?

Now, once again, another Republican to the Democrats' rescue.

First, some background.

Democrats are deeply divided over the war in Afghanistan.  Their president is sending more troops into combat, and while he has said he intends to start to bring them home next summer, not everyone is convinced he will be able to make good on that.

Thursday night's vote in the House perfectly illustrated that division.  An amendment calling for a plan to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan failed on a 260-162 vote.  But while Republicans were pretty much united against the amendment -- only nine GOPers voted in favor of it -- Democrats were torn.  Ninety eight Democrats voted no, but 153 voted yes ... including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Caucus chair John Larson and Democratic campaign chief Chris Van Hollen.  The list of the 98 no votes included Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Whip James Clyburn.

In an excellent account of the vote, CQ's Edward Epstein writes that the tally shows that President Obama "may not be able to count much longer on the backing of his own party in Congress as he pursues a war strategy he says is vital to American interests and national security."  Darrell West of the Brookings Institution said, "When your own party starts to splinter that dramatically, it signals trouble for the president.  When you can’t keep your own party in line, it makes it harder to keep the public’s support for a war.”

With 60 percent of his own party in the House voting against the war, Obama heard a party deeply divided over what to do.

Leave it to Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele to unite them.

In a scene captured on this YouTube video*, Steele, at a Thursday party fundraiser in Connecticut, called Afghanistan a "a war of Obama's choosing.  This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in."

Democrats and their allies on the left reacted as if they got a gift from the gods.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said, "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."

Kevin Drum, writing in Mother Jones, said the comments were "more evidence that Michael Steele is a mendacious clown."

For much of this afternoon, there was a steady stream of emails from the DNC.

But the criticism didn't only come from the left.

Bill Kristolwriting in the Weekly Standard, called on Steele to resign:

Your tenure has of course been marked by gaffes and embarrassments, but I for one have never paid much attention to them, and have never thought they would matter much to the success of the causes and principles we share. ...

At a time when Gen. Petraeus has just taken over command, when Republicans in Congress are pushing for a clean war funding resolution, when Republicans around the country are doing their best to rally their fellow citizens behind the mission, your comment is more than an embarrassment. 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.

And Dan Senor, a leading conservative, told the Huffington Post that Steele's comments were "utterly irresponsible."

Chris Good, blogging at The Atlantic, writes about Steele's history of "gaffes":

This one, however, appears to be the biggest, and here's why: 

1) Wars are more serious, and they are taken more seriously in politics.

2) He's advocating that federal candidates push this line. Who cares if Steele personally maybe leaned pro-choice, as his GQ slip seemed to indicate? That's his deal. In this case, it's about pushing Republican candidates in a tangible direction and supplying them with he materials to move in that way. ...

Steele has always had his enemies, but he's been insulated from their criticisms and calls for his job, largely because it doesn't really hurt the GOP that much when he says unexpected things, the process to remove a chairman is so onerous, it would look bad if he stepped down, and it would look bad if the GOP, with its old-white-guy image, fired its first black chairman because he wouldn't get in line with what everyone else wanted him to do and say.

Good concludes that Steele "will probably survive this":

Despite how unhappy some are about this, it is far easier for the committee to wait until Steele's term is up in January and let challengers mount their bids. And in his propensity to utter what so many call "gaffes," Steele actually evades more criticism. He just lets it rip. For better or worse, people expect things like this.

*The Steele video was posted on YouTube by “RealityCheck411.” Judging from this and the other videos RealityCheck411 has posted, it’s a Connecticut-focused YouTube channel that is pro-Democratic/anti-Republican. The headline “Michael Steele Opposing the Troops in Afghanistan” is RealityCheck411’s take on the news, not NPR’s. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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