Something about Bill Kristol’s letter to RNC Chairman Michael Steele struck me as odd:
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.
Kristol then continued:
But now you have said, about the war in Afghanistan, speaking as RNC chairman at an RNC event, “Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.” And, “if [Obama] is 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?”
It’s because of those two quoted passages that Kristol wants Steele out.
Since Kristol’s letter was my introduction to the controversy, and given Steele’s propensity for gaffes and embarrassments, I wondered about the context of his remarks. As it happens, they were delivered off the cuff at a small fundraiser — you can barely hear Steele speaking on what was posted on YouTube. But it’s clearly nothing more than Steele thinking aloud, without prepared text — precisely the sort of moment that’s gotten him in trouble before.
In any case, this was clearly a political gathering and as such Steele seemed intent on scoring a few political points about the other side. Fortunately, the Atlantic‘s political blogger Chris Good is young and has good hearing and was able to transcribe Steele’s remarks, thus providing some much needed context.
Here’s the key paragraph from Steele’s ad lib as posted by Good:
Keep in mind, again, our federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not, this is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those, one of those areas of the total horde of foreign policy…that we would be a background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the president who tried to be cute by…flipping the script deomonizing iraq while saying the battle really should be in afghanistan. Well if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you dont’ 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 that we can engage in Afghanistan without committing more troops…
I’ve highlighted what I think are two very defensible political points. Critics of the war might choose to highlight even more of what Steele said. It just could be that Steele has been reading too many George Will columns.