Michael Steele and America's rising minority on Afghanistan 

Ah, Michael Steele. It seems like the RNC Chairman perpetually has his foot stuck squarely in his mouth. And this past Fourth of July weekend was no exception.

Steele was caught on video making disparaging comments about President Obama and America’s war effort in Afghanistan. The comments caused such a kerfuffle that Steele has since had to engage in a frantic walk back.

Former Presidential hopeful and US Senator John McCain has called Steele’s comments “wildly inaccurate.” Senator Jim DeMint has called on Steele to apologize to the American military, while Senator Lindsey Graham has expressed anger over the comments. And early on in the scandal, Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol penned an open letter to Steele, asking him to resign over the comments.

Here’s the thing, though. What Michael Steele said might have wildly diverged from the current Republican playbook on Afghanistan, but the spirit of his comments is something with which many Americans are starting to agree.

No one is going to buy the idea that Afghanistan is the current President’s war insofar as he initiated it. But Obama had an opportunity to end or de-escalate the war back in December of 2009 and chose instead to escalate the country’s efforts, providing an additional 30,000 troops to do so.

In this regard, Obama’s decision argueably transferred ownership over the war into his own hands.

And while the decision received a slim majority of support amongst Americans, it was nonetheless a divisive issues -- particularly amongst many war-weary independents.   

Further, the general sense of frustration and uncertainty about the country’s efforts in Afghanistan is also a sentiment growingly shared by many Americans. In a May 2010 poll by Rasmussen, only 41% of respondents felt that the war in Afghanistan was winnable. 36% of respondents felt the war was unwinnable and 23% were unsure about the potential outcome.

Which means that a majority of Americans either share Steele’s expressed skepticism or feel uncertain about America’s prospects in Afghanistan.  

And while it is not accurate to say that a majority of Americans are opposed to the war in Afghanistan. A quick look at the Polling Report’s tally of recent polls on the issue demonstrates that opposition to the war is both substantial and seems to be growing.

All of which is to say that while Steele’s offhanded comments about the war might not have been very politically savvy, neither are they are remarkably disproportionate to the feelings of a sizable number of his fellow Americans. It was all but inevitable that Democratic response to the remarks would seek to take advantage of what has broadly been perceived as a damaging gaffe by condemning Steele in harsh terms. But to some degree, the Republican response has been a bit disappointing.

For a Party that claims a commitment to representing average Americans against a liberal big government agenda that has no time for their input, to so brazenly disregard the growing discontent acknowledged by its Chairman and then force an about face of the speed and virulence just witnessed is more an act of political cowardice, than it is robust patriotism.

Those dissenting Americans deserve at least to have their frustration acknowledged.

With Democrats seemingly married to the President’s strategy, Republicans had an opportunity to step into the role of loyal opposition. Or in lieu of outright opposition to the war, Republicans could have at least been the party to acknowledge the cracks in the country’s resolve around the current state of the Afghan project and offered a discussion about the future of the issue on principle.

But that is an opportunity that most Republicans outside of Ron Paul have chosen to forgo completely. If the trend of opinion on Afghanistan maintains its current course, it may well be a decision that Republicans may come to regret.

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Scott Payne

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