Afghan About-Face: An Emerging GOP Schism

By Hirsh, Michael | Newsweek, July 26, 2010 | Go to article overview

Afghan About-Face: An Emerging GOP Schism


Hirsh, Michael, Newsweek


Byline: Michael Hirsh

No one doubts that Michael Steele suffers from chronic foot-in-mouth disease. So when Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, declared recently that Afghanistan was a war that Obama had chosen, and that America shouldn't get bogged down in a place where "everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed," he initially encountered the usual reaction from conservatives leery of his leadership: derision and calls to resign. Not only were his facts wrong, he seemed to be muddling a key GOP message. One does not allow Democrats to out-hawk Republicans.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the chopping block. The controversy quickly died. Steele retracted part of his statement, and other leading Republicans and conservatives stepped up, if not always to Steele's defense, at least to second his skepticism about Afghanistan. Fiery pundit Ann Coulter called Steele "absolutely right" and laced into neocon hawks Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney, who were among those who had called for Steele to resign. Some GOP legislators, like Rep. Tim Johnson of Illinois--who has long opposed funding for both Afghanistan and Iraq--even wrote notes of support to Steele. "Since March our office has gotten 450 e-mails on Afghanistan," an aide to Johnson told NEWSWEEK, "and only three have said 'send more troops.' "

Some newer GOP members of Congress allied with the Tea Party, like Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, say doubts about the endless drain of Afghanistan are beginning to penetrate a movement that has, until now, been obsessed with the domestic aspects of big government. "America is weary," says Chaffetz. "We're fast approaching a decade [of war] and no end in sight. And I think you have a lot of people who have less and less confidence in the president." Chaffetz, like other congressmen who have voted against Afghan funding, says more of his House colleagues are quietly cheering him on. "I had a number of members say 'I wish I had the political guts to do what you did, because I think it's right.' " Chip Hanlon of RedCounty.com, a California-based blogger and Tea Party activist, says the issue resonates with the "true libertarians" in the movement. While they remain a minority, they're usually the loudest and angriest at meetings, says Hanlon. "They saw Michael Steele's comments as the first right thing he said."

Now some leading conservative politicians--especially those thinking about presidential politics--are jumping in to question Obama's Afghan policy from a very different tack. …

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