Webb Opposes Withdrawal Plan For U.S. Troops

Sen. John F. Kerry's support of Democratic Senate hopeful James Webb, left, is credited with aiding him in the primary.
Sen. John F. Kerry's support of Democratic Senate hopeful James Webb, left, is credited with aiding him in the primary. (By Kevin Wolf -- Associated Press)
By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 24, 2006

RICHMOND, June 23 -- Virginia Democratic Senate candidate James Webb said Friday that he would have voted against a proposal by Sen. John F. Kerry to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within a year.

Webb, whose early opposition to the war has been a driving force behind his candidacy, said he opposes setting deadlines for redeployment and instead suggested that with his national security experience, he could have persuaded Kerry (D-Mass.) and other Democrats not to pursue the Senate vote. Webb is a former Marine and served as secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan.

"I don't think an artificial timeline emanating from the Congress is a workable concept," said Webb, who is challenging U.S. Sen. George Allen (R). "Honestly, if I were in the Senate, I would have been able to talk to people about perhaps different ways of looking at this."

The Kerry proposal was rejected by the Senate on Thursday, as the body concluded three days of debate about the war that will probably mirror partisan debate in the months leading up to the November elections.

The position put Webb at odds with Kerry, who endorsed Webb in his recent primary race against Northern Virginia technology lobbyist Harris Miller. The support of the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee helped convince some party loyalists that Webb, a former Republican, deserved their votes.

Webb's comments instead allied him with Allen on the issue of setting a deadline for withdrawal. Allen was one of 86 senators who voted against the proposal.

Allen's campaign immediately accused Webb of offering conflicting statements on the war, citing previous articles in which Webb was described as supporting troop withdrawals.

"James H. Webb Jr. is not only trying to have it both ways on Iraq, he has taken three or more contradictory and vacillating positions," said Dick Wadhams, Allen's campaign manager, in a statement. "If you disagree with something James H. Webb Jr. says about Iraq, just wait a few hours, and he'll change his position."

Speaking at a morning news conference alongside Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), Webb indicated that he also did not support a second, nonbinding resolution rejected by the Senate on Thursday, sponsored by Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). That measure called for President Bush to start drawing down troops by the end of the year but set no deadline for a total withdrawal. Webb would not say, however, whether he would have voted against the resolution.

"Resolving the situation in Iraq at the same time that we are attempting to maintain some stability in the region is a very difficult leadership issue for the government," he said. "It's not going to be resolved with one small piece of legislation or the other."

He said repeatedly, however, that he "empathized with the frustrations" of those who want to nail down an endpoint to U.S. involvement in the war.

"This was a failed strategy, it was failed leadership that got us into this position," said Webb, who wrote an editorial seven months before the invasion warning that it would be a mistake.

Before the news conference, Allen's campaign had blasted Webb for failing to comment publicly on the resolutions backed by Kerry and other national Democrats who had endorsed him in the primary.

"James H. Webb Jr. did not utter a word this week as the very people who threw their arms around him and dragged him across the line in the Democratic primary attempted to immediately pull out of Iraq," Wadhams said in a statement.

Webb is starting an uphill climb against Allen, a popular incumbent who has raised $7.5 million for his reelection effort and a possible future run for president. Webb emerged from his primary win with virtually no cash.

This week, Kaine's political action committee sent a fundraising appeal on Webb's behalf, and the governor promised Friday to help.

"Over the next months, I'm going to do everything I can, with a very unified party, in support of Jim's candidacy, to make sure that people around the state get to know him," Kaine said.

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