“You know,” he said, suddenly sounding like he had pushed his talking points aside, “this is one thing I really—this is one thing I really take objection to, is politicians who at the…”
Mr. Graham then began trying to talk over Mr. Webb, taunting him with a condescending refrain of “Let them win.” Mr. Webb, though, wouldn’t hear it.
“May I speak?” he asked Mr. Graham, his tone indicating that he was not actually posing a question.
He then finished his interrupted thought: “…is politicians who try to put their political views into the mouths of soldiers. You can look at poll after poll, and the political views of the United States military are no different than the country at large…Less than half of the military believes that we should be in Iraq in the first place.”
That set off a dizzying two-minute stretch in which Mr. Russert sat back as both Senators spoke over one another in a fight for the high ground.
Mr. Graham told Mr. Webb that he didn’t understand the sentiments of the troops because he hadn’t been to Iraq. Mr. Webb replied that Mr. Graham hardly knew any better, since he’s only traveled to Iraq as part of carefully-choreographed “dog and pony shows” – official Congressional visits that, Mr. Webb slyly, and finally, noted, he himself had witnessed when he was on the ground in Vietnam.
Then Mr. Graham claimed that re-enlistment rates indicate widespread approval of the war by troops. Mr. Webb countered that poll show that only about 35 percent of troops feel such optimism and attributed re-enlistments to the patriotism of American soldiers – something, Mr. Webb made sure to note, that he learned a thing or two about from his own military family.
At one point, Mr. Graham feebly asserted that “something we can agree on – we both admire the men and women in uniform.”
“Don’t put words in their mouth,” Mr. Webb shot back.
Next year’s GOP nomination is up for grabs like no other in decades, but the ultimate nominee undoubtedly will understand the political imperative of putting distance between himself and President Bush on Iraq – and on the matter of this year’s escalation in particular.
It is also still possible that Mr. Bush, either on his own (a remote possibility) or by Congressional mandate (only slightly less remote), will institute a troop scale-back significant enough to turn down the political volume on Iraq in the 2008 election.
But regardless of the particulars of the Iraq situation, the ’08 election will, like no recent presidential campaign, be decided on foreign policy and military issues. And Republicans will assuredly rely on their familiar (and, to this point, successful) playbook, in which Democrats are portrayed as appeasers of the enemy and condemned as hostile to America’s heroic armed forces.
The Jim Webb who was on display at the close of his segment with Lindsey Graham yesterday—as opposed to the Jim Webb who sat next to Mr. Graham for the first three-quarters or so of the segment—would make a supremely effective addition to the Democrats’ national ticket.