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Steele’s “Democrat War”

As you may have heard, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is in the news again, and not in a good way, with reports of a speech he made in Connecticut referring to the war in Afghanistan as “a war of Obama’s choosing,” and warning of the futility of a “land war in Afghanistan.”

Very quickly, calls for Steele’s resignation came from the formidable chattering class duo of the Weekly Standard‘s William Kristol and RedState’s Erick Erickson.

Whatever else they represent, Steele’s remarks have created a sudden and surprising fault line in the GOP over foreign policy at a time when that party has (following public opinion) focused its attention heavily on domestic issues, largely confining itself with attacks on the administration’s alleged weakness and fecklessness in dealing with other countries, while tolerating anti-Iraq-War heretics like Rand Paul.

The RNC has put out a statement defending Steele though not really addressing the underlying issues of Bush administration responsibility for launching the war in Afghanistan, or of longstanding Republican support for its aggressive prosecution.

Any explanations of Steele’s motivations in committing this apparent gaffe are speculative. But among us old-timers, it’s reminiscent of Bob Dole’s self-destructive remark about the death toll in “Democrat wars” (including World War II) in the 1976 vice-presidential debate, reflecting a habit of blaming specific administrations for wars waged with strong bipartisan support.

We’ll soon see if Steele can survive, and if this event turns out to be a momentary embarrassment, or the beginning of a real debate among Republicans about the party’s foreign policy message going into 2010 and 2012.