"Webb says U.S. presence in Iraq draining nation

"Webb says U.S. presence in Iraq draining nation
He says military is tied up, 'economy has gone down the tubes'


Monday, Apr 07, 2008 - 12:08 AM Updated: 01:11 AM


The war in Iraq ended five years ago, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said yesterday.

'From that point forward, we have been in a very tedious and contentious occupation, which is what people like myself were warning about before we went in,' the Vietnam War veteran and former secretary of the Navy said.

Webb, who has become one of the foremost critics of the Iraq war since taking office in 2006, appeared on the ABC news show 'This Week,' hosted by George Stephanopoulos.

Unlike in July 2007, when Webb and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., seated side by side, engaged in a heated confrontation on the Sunday talk show 'Meet the Press,' Webb and Graham sparred gently yesterday.

This time, they were separated by distance. Webb was in the Washington studio; Graham was elsewhere.

The two were asked to talk about America's presence in Iraq, on the eve of an appearance before Congress of Iraq commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who conceived of the troop-surge strategy that Republicans say is working and Democrats say is not.

Webb continued his criticism."

"This occupation has drained the country strategically in two different ways," Webb said.

"The first is that we have tied up the best maneuver forces in the world, the Army and the Marine Corps, on the streets, in the cities of one nation while the people were supposed to be fighting al-Qaida and other forces of terrorism, and, secondly, our grand strategic interests have fallen aside. Our economy has gone down the tubes, the price of oil has quadrupled and our main strategic adversary, China, has benefited."

Graham, acknowledging that the troops in Iraq are stressed, said, "The biggest stress of all is to lose a battle against terrorism that we can't afford to lose."

Webb said the United States needs to emphasize more regional diplomacy; Graham said the U.S. has to deal with Iran and Syria, which are arming some of the Iraqi insurgents.

Asked about recent remarks by Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, that the U.S. troops might have to stay in Iraq for 100 years in a noncombat status, Webb said: "We do not belong as an occupying power in that part of the world. . . . If the Republican side wants to have long-term bases, then they should be saying so."

Webb is among the uncommitted superdelegates to the national convention whom Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois are wooing in their close contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama, who is ahead, says superdelegates should follow the votes of the people; Clinton says they should decide on the basis of which candidate they think could best win the presidency.

"I think if they didn't want the superdelegates to have independent judgment, they wouldn't have created them," Webb said. " . . . I have the luxury of having two candidates who are really exciting the country and who are bringing more people into the process."

He added: "If I thought one or the other would be markedly better as president, I would endorse them, but I am really happy at this point to support them both."
Contact Tyler Whitley at (804) 649-6780 or twhitley@timesdispatch.com.

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