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Shortly after President Bush’s State of the Union address last week Jim Webb, the freshman Senator from Virginia, delivered the Democrats’ televised response to Bush’s annual speech. Many antiwar progressives were pleased to hear a Democrat confront the Bush rhetoric head-on. Media critic Jeff Cohen went even further and argued that Webb’s riposte was not only aimed at the Bush administration, but also at Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
"Whether intended or not," wrote Cohen, "Webb was offering a way for Democrats to win elections — a script for any presidential candidate who wants to distinguish him or herself in the primaries, and then defeat the Republicans in Nov. 2008."
Cohen and I must have been watching different programs. Sen. Webb’s position on the Iraq war was little more than a sugarcoated pill packed full of the usual irony. Webb painted the situation in Iraq as a result of Bush’s poor planning and not the more obvious illegalities and lies that drove our country into battle. As Webb put it, "We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable — and predicted — disarray that has followed."
Never once did we hear Webb utter the bitter truth about the Iraq crisis. Certainly the invasion and subsequent occupation were not "mismanaged" as Webb and many others have put it, rather the civil war now engulfing Iraq is a result of a criminal performance carried out by President Bush that was enabled and encouraged by the leaders of the Democratic Party dating back to President Clinton.
Webb also did not express any significant criticisms of the "war on terror" as he seems to believe in its underlying premise. Consequently he did not mention that he disagrees with the increase of troops in Afghanistan or the recent air strikes of suspected terrorist cells in Somali. And despite his anger at Bush’s reckless mismanagement of Iraq, he didn’t dare bring up that all but forgotten subject: impeachment.
Webb also noted that he was opposed to "a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos" and instead called for a "strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq." In essence Webb doesn’t believe U.S. troops should leave Iraq at once. We may as well call that just more of the same. All talk, no action.
And this is the type of winning formula Jeff Cohen believes the Democratic presidential candidates should use to distinguish themselves from Republicans? Right now the most visible and articulate antiwar senator is Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. If anything, Democratic presidential hopefuls and others should take a cue from Hagel on Iraq, not Webb. In a recent interview in GQ, Hagel went as far as to say that what’s going on in Iraq is "even worse than a civil war, because in addition to the sectarian violence, you’ve got Shia killing Shia. We have ethnic cleansing of major proportions going on in Baghdad."
Enough with the nonsense. Senator Hagel’s straight talk is what the American public really needs to hear.
JOSHUA FRANK is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush and edits http://www.BrickBurner.org.