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Michael Steele under fire over Afghanistan remarks

The Republican National Committee chairman is caught on video saying the conflict is a 'war of Obama's choosing' and implying that the U.S. effort is doomed. Conservatives call for his resignation.

July 02, 2010|By Michael Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is facing a new test of his leadership over comments he made that appear to question America's military effort in Afghanistan.

Video footage that emerged Friday shows Steele referring to the conflict as "a war of Obama's choosing" and implying that the effort is doomed to fail.


FOR THE RECORD:
Michael Steele: Articles published in Saturday's and Sunday's Section A concerning criticism of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele reported that a club where Republican Party funds were spent is in Hollywood. The club, Voyeur, is in West Hollywood. —

"If he's such a student of history," Steele said, referring to President Obama, "has he not understood that, you know, that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Everyone who has tried, over 1,000 years of history, has failed."

He described the events surrounding the dismissal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as the top commander in Afghanistan as "comical."

The video, which appears to have been filmed surreptitiously, was shot at a fundraising event Thursday for the Connecticut Republican Party, a party spokesman confirmed.

Democrats quickly seized on the remarks.

"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," Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said in a statement.

Two prominent conservatives also called for Steele's immediate resignation.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, called Steele's remarks "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."

Erick Erickson, writing at the conservative blog RedState, said Steele had "lost all moral authority to lead the GOP."

A party spokesman defended Steele's comments, saying that they were made in the context of speaking to the party's candidates about how the issue could be discussed on the campaign trail.

In a statement clarifying his remarks Friday afternoon, Steele called winning the war in Afghanistan "a difficult task," but "a necessary one."

"The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan," he said in the statement.

The episode is the latest in a series of off-message moments that have caused prominent Republicans to question whether Steele is the right person to lead the party.

Steele's chief of staff resigned earlier this year amid allegations of fiscal mismanagement, following a report that nearly $2,000 in party funds was paid to a sex-themed Hollywood club.

Doug Heye, the RNC's communications director, denied that Steele's leadership was at risk and said Democrats were misrepresenting the comments.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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