Afghanistan Politics and the Rightness of Michael Steele

Andrew Sullivan points out that, in some very tangible ways, Michael Steele's horrendously malformed account of the U.S. war in Afghanistan was actually right, and that in this rightness, we actually gain a valuable critique of President Obama's handling of the war.

This part of Steele's comment is factually accurate:
"It was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan."

And this one is valuable for its insight:
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? All right, 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.

This actual correctness has been lost, of course, in the terrific irony of Steele's "student of history" line. But Obama did demonize Iraq in favor of Afghanistan, and this seems, in a way, to be the observation from which all of Steele's inaccurate portrayal flows. In his demonizing, Obama took on a stance that John Kerry had voiced in 2004: that Bush had ignored an important, justified war in Afghanistan, diverting resources away to satisfy his base or ill-advised post-9/11 foreign-policy impulses.

Pursuant to his campaign rhetoric, Obama has employed a strategy, initially announced in March 2009, that loosely resembles Bush's Iraq troop surge: send 34,000 more combat and support troops (Bush sent about 28,000 to Iraq in 2007) and hope to begin drawing down two years later, in July 2011 (U.S. troops began pulling out of Iraq in spring 2009, roughly two years after Bush's surge was announced). One big difference: Obama announced his timetable for withdrawal.

The question of ownership appears to be up in the air, as far as public opinion goes. Liberals never gave President Bush credit for having improved the situation in Iraq with his surge. Obama polls decently on Afghanistan--a recent Gallup poll showed that 50% rate his handling of the war as "good" or "very good," and a solid 58% support his timetable for ending the war that has gradually become unpopular since its outset--but it seems to be an open question how much credit or blame he'll get for the success or failure of his strategy, regardless of whether he should get it.