OMT One Man's Trash...from Norman Leahy

Monday, June 19, 2006 :::

A Bit of Q&A Between Jim Webb and the Press on Iraq

Jim Webb recently had a press event with a number of reporters. The following is from a transcription of an exchange between Webb and a Post reporter on the topic of Iraq. I thought it was worth sharing for a number of reasons. Here's the excerpt:

Q: To get back to Iraq for just a second, if you don't mind. I've worked in the Middle East for four years. When you talk about getting out of Iraq, if the United States should enunciate some sort of objective which would include not staying indefinitely but, at the same time you decline to set any kind of parameters that would define what conditions the United States would leave Iraq on, beyond setting some sort of stability in the region. Well to American ears that maybe sounds like a good formula. In the Mid-east, if you're waiting for some sort of stability in the region, you could wait forever, you're not going to convince many Arabs. So isn't that kind of a dodge? "I want to get out of Iraq, but only when we have stability in the region."
A: I haven't said "only when we have stability in the region..."
Q: Well what are your parameters? What are your objectives what metrics are you going to use...
A: Now if you're saying it's a dodge, you ought to be talking to the administration, because that's the exact bill that the Republicans have on the floor right now...
Q: Well what are your objectives, what are your parameters and metrics...
A: What I have said is, first of all, we need to state clearly that we have no long-term objectives for occupying the region. Secondly, we should get those countries involved overtly, the countries such as Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain...overtly in the diplomatic process and then figure out a way. I can't sit out here, simply as a candidate, and give you a specific formula anymore than...
Q: Well not a specific formula, but in general terms, what are your objectives? What would Iraq need to look like more or less, what kinds of metric would you look like for the United States to be on reasonably solid ground in withdrawing or at least drawing down significantly?
A: I think we need to say specifically to the Iraqi government, such as it is, that they are going to eventually have to solve there own problems. And we are going to remove our military in a methodical way, we're going to keep our forces in places like Kuwait and Jordan so we can react until our military is out of there, but eventually they're going to have to fix their own problem.
Q: Isn't that what the administration says? Isn't that exactly where they are?
A: I think that if you look at where the administration is, and look at the bill that was on the floor yesterday, they're saying we're not going to leave until peace and stability have been accomplished, which goes exactly to the point that you just raised.
Q: But Mr. Webb, with respect, you say we're going to withdraw our troops in a methodical way when...what? When what conditions prevail on the ground?
A: I think we just need to get our people out. And they are going to have to come in behind and solve their problems. Right now, my view is that our troops in Iraq are a big part of the problem. And I support them tactically, and I want to say that, you know, with all sincerity and clarity, because you have to be able to control the battle space that's in front of you. And in places like Ramadi. But strategically, I don't think we have any value with having the American forces there right now. This whole argument we're having that we're somehow solving the war against international terrorism by being in Iraq, I don't think it works.
Q: So would you want to see even some diminution in the number of attacks on American troops, or at least the number of sectarian attacks in Iraq before our troops...or is it simply a logistical issue?
A: It's pretty much, it's a logistical issue but at the same time with the diplomatic cooperation of other countries in the region. I think if you could ever...every one of the countries that I've mentioned has their own dynamic, as you know. And if we get them more overtly involved, the countries in that region have a way of being able to come to terms. They always have. I can tell you, when I was Secretary of the Navy, and I was meeting with the Emir of Bahrain, this was at a time when we had re-flagged Kuwaiti vessels and called them American vessels during the Iran-Iraq War, where you'll recall that Kuwait was the number one ally of Iraq, we had specifically titled toward Iraq in 1987, the Emir of Bahrain, one of the things he said to me was "you guys come in here, you stir the pot up, but you have to remember, that we are still going to be here 2000 years from now looking across the Persian Gulf at Iran." And those countries have their own incentives to step forward and become part of the process and we should overtly make them participate.

There are a number of things at play here. One is the dynamic between reporter and candidate. Webb is pressed -- hard -- to make a definitive statement. This may or may not be a game of "gotcha." It can certainly be taken for that.

But there is also the candidate's own internal struggle, if that's the right word. Webb obviously has strong opinions on the matter. Withdrawing from Iraq is one of the cornerstones of his campaign. But here, he is pressed for specifics..."metrics" and "parameters" by which he would judge conditions as ripe for a withdrawl. He seems, at least to me, to waver. Perhaps he does not have any specifics just yet. But now that he is the nominee, he no longer has the luxury (if he ever really did) to say that he's just a candidate, so how can he offer any specifics? That won't work.

He is finally prodded to name his goal: "we just need to get our people out." He would leave it to the Iraqis to "solve their own problems." It will be interesting to see how this plays -- both in the refinement of his position and how it is reported -- over the course of the campaign.

::: posted by Norman Leahy at 6/19/2006 3 comments


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