Not even the chairman of the Republican Party seems certain of where the party should stand on the future of the Afghan occupation. Michael Steele has caught fire from his own ranks for a talk last week in which he described the Afghan war as nothing that the American people wanted and a futile exercise in land warfare. Most predictably, Steele caught hell from the neocons, represented in Congress by Senator McCain and his sidekick, Senator Graham. Meanwhile, Steele's comments have been applauded and echoed, just as predictably, by Rep. Ron Paul.
It makes sense for Republican strategists to wonder whether growing home-front frustration with Afghanistan should be exploited and directed against Democrats during the forthcoming election season. It might not be honest or consistent, but it'd be predictable in the context of the American Bipolarchy. But Afghanistan forces a choice on Republicans, because there's two ways to criticize the President's prosecution of the occupation. There's Ron Paul's approach, which is to concede that the war isn't worth fighting and get out, and then there's McCain's approach, which would be to propose a better strategy for winning (however that's defined) by all available means. Putting it another way, the choice is between saying that the Afghan occupation is wrong and saying only that Obama is doing it wrong.
Steele has probably been asking himself the same question The American Conservative put on its cover this month: can the Tea Parties become anti-war? The magazine, at least, assumes that the TPs are for now pro-war while wanting to change their minds, while Steele still seems uncertain, not only about the Tea Parties but about public opinion in general. The neocons are at least true to their principles; they'd insist on war for total victory no matter how few Americans agreed with them. They resent Steele because they interpreted his remarks about "Obama's War" as advocating withdrawal rather than a more aggressive fight. They also resent him because the Democrats have inevitably questioned his commitment, and by extension his party's, to victory in Afghanistan. Ron Paul and some others have questioned the nation's commitment for a long time now, and at this time Republicans as a whole seem to be questioning their collective commitment. The real question is whether Afghanistan will be a meaningful issue this fall while Americans continue to worry most about their jobs and their savings. Some Republicans may believe that they would have been better off saying nothing about it, but Steele has forced the issue upon them, and Democrats may try to keep forcing it from now until November. We may end up having a more in-depth national discussion about Afghanistan now, whether the politicians want one or not.