WASHINGTON - Michael Steele, whose tenure as chair of the Republican National Committee has been marked by controversy, faces a new test of his leadership over comments he made that appear to question America's military effort in Afghanistan.
Video footage that emerged Friday shows Steele referring to the conflict as "a war of Obama's choosing" and implying that the effort is doomed to fail.
"If he's such a student of history," Steele says, referring to President Barack Obama, "has he not understood that, you know, that's the one thing you don't do - is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed."
The video, which appears to have been filmed surreptitiously, was shot at a finance event Thursday for the Connecticut Republican Party, a party spokesman confirmed.
Democrats immediately seized on the remarks.
"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," Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said in a statement.
Two prominent conservatives also called for Steele's immediate resignation.
Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard called the sentiments "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."
Erick Erickson, writing at the conservative blog RedState, said Steele "has lost all moral authority to lead the GOP."
A party spokesman defended Steele's comments, saying that they were made in the context of speaking to the party's candidates about how the issue could be discussed on the campaign trail. In a statement clarifying his remarks Friday afternoon, Steele called winning the war in Afghanistan "a difficult task," but "a necessary one."