Updated 8:06 p.m. Eastern Time
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele suggested at a Connecticut fundraiser that Afghanistan is "a war of Obama's choosing" despite the fact that it began years before the president took office.As criticism of his comments grew Friday, Steele issued a statement saying that he supported the U.S. troops, but did not address his factual mistake.
Steele also said of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan: "This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in."
The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, less than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Steele's comments were caught on amateur video and posted to YouTube. (See the video below. Reporters were not allowed at the fund-raising event.) In the video, he can be heard suggesting that President Obama failed to understand that waging war in Afghanistan has been shown throughout history to be a losing proposition. Steele also suggests America should have a "background" role in the country, "sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops."
"Well if he's 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," Steele says of the president. "Alright? Because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan without committing more troops."
Steele also described the situation around the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as "very comical."
RNC spokesman Doug Heye wrote in an email to Hotsheet that "nowhere did Steele say or suggest that (a) we shouldn't be there, (b) we can't win or (c) he didn't support the surge."
Steele released a statement in response to the uproar prompted by the comments in which he said "There is no question that America must win the war on terror."
"During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear his belief that we should not fight in Iraq, but instead concentrate on Afghanistan," he continued. "Now, as President, he has indeed shifted his focus to this region. That means this is his strategy. And, for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war."
Added Steele: "As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one. That is why I supported the decision to increase our troop force and, like the entire United States Senate, I support General Petraeus' confirmation. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan."
Steele, the RNC's first African-American chairman, has repeatedly come under fire over a series of controversial comments, along with questions about his personal speaking fees and a fund-raising scandal. His latest comments could be the last straw for some Republicans, particularly because they so clearly cut against the GOP line on the war: They have already prompted a call for his resignation from William Kristol, the editor of the influential conservative magazine the Weekly Standard, and other such calls may be imminent.
"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," Kristol wrote today. "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."
Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said in a blistering statement that "John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be interested to hear that the Republican Party position is that we should walk away from the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job."
"They'd also be interested to hear that the Chairman of the Republican Party thinks we have no business in Afghanistan notwithstanding the fact that we are there because we were attacked by terrorists on 9-11," he continued. "And, the American people will be interested to hear that the leader of the Republican Party thinks recent events related to the war are 'comical' and that he is betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan. 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."