Webb’s New Book Balances Pro-Troop, Anti-War Views

Posted May 19, 2008 at 4:57pm

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) started his career in the military and in public service, working his way up to a position in the Defense Department during the Reagan administration. But in the late 1980s, he resigned after a falling-out over naval logistics, and he spent much of the next two decades outside the public sphere — until 2006, that is, when he won a tight Senate race to unseat incumbent George Allen (R).

So it’s fair to say that the public might need a bit of a primer on the relatively new Senator’s political views.

Webb’s latest book, “A Time to Fight,” offers a window into his philosophy and cements his position as a possible vice presidential antidote to the Democratic presidential frontrunners’ relative lack of military experience as they prepare to battle presumptive GOP candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

At first glance, “A Time to Fight” seems like 13 chapters on 13 separate topics, tied together by a central theme of “what’s wrong in America.”

But the book is actually a fully developed response to President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union Address. Webb delivered a shorter version in response to Bush’s speech just 19 days after being sworn in as a Senator.

Webb pours his heart out in the 255-page book, walking a fine and very effective line between his dislike for the Iraq War and his support of the nation’s troops. He has two factors assisting him in this endeavor — his Vietnam combat experience and his son’s service in Iraq.

The Senator has written other books, perhaps the most notable of which was “Fields of Fire,” a critical look at the Vietnam War from the perspective of American soldiers and the Vietnamese themselves. His talent for walking the line between anti-war and anti-soldier may have first developed there. At the time of its publication, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote: “‘Fields of Fire’ is an antiwar book, yes, but not naively, dumbly anti- soldier or anti-American.”

While the Democratic Party has championed an end to the Iraq War, it has neglected to pay tribute to the soldiers doing the fighting, and “lost so much support of the people,” Webb writes. But he adds that he has “always carried a sense of obligation on that issue” because of his Vietnam experience.

In “A Time to Fight,” Webb notes that he was against going into Iraq and argues that the administration intentionally deceived the American public when it comes to certain aspects of waging the war. Regarding the high number of troops needed to reconstruct Iraq after the invasion, Webb writes, “Given the level of knowledge easily available to the President, it could only have involved a conscious deception regarding the true price that would have to be paid after the initial military incursion.”

Another focus of the book is income and race disparity in America. Webb cites a list of facts about CEO salaries and worker compensation, scolding executives: “Folks, you’re good. But you’re not that good.” The Senator doesn’t offer any solutions to the issues he highlights, but he said that was intentional; he wanted “A Time to Fight” to explain his core philosophy and not become a policy briefing.

The book still gives some hint as to how Webb might approach the issues he discusses. Webb is insistent that the only thing he thinks about when formulating his policy views is fairness, explaining that he has always been a bottom-up economist and believes that Congress is in a position to fix income and race disparity.

These views have not yet been fleshed out with a long record of Senate floor votes, given that Webb has been in office only a short time. The book lends some clarity to Webb’s perspectives, but it leaves room to fill in the full picture of what could be expected if speculation proves correct and Webb does become a Democratic vice presidential candidate.