Webb on Civil-Military Relations

Sen. Jim Webb has been skirmishing in the battles over American civil-military relations since he came home from Vietnam and became an outspoken member of his generation of combat veterans. Through his novels, work with veterans groups, and, eventually, his political activity, Webb led the charge against those who attacked Vietnam vets and those who opposed a strong military and muscular foreign policy.

Webb has matured and moderated his style somewhat, and his views have evolved a great deal over the past 30 years. Today, he sees America's political parties through a different prism: that of the Iraq war his son served in. And he sees relations with the military differently.

On Meet the Press yesterday, host Tim Russert quoted from Webb's new book and Webb had this to say about the political parties, the war and the Bush administration's stance on S.22, the Webb GI Bill legislation:

RUSSERT: It is interesting in reading your description of the political parties as we look at this upcoming presidential campaign and their defense policy postures. You say, "The Democrats who came of age during the Vietnam era, and many others who've grown up under their tutelage, have erred greatly for many years in not understanding the positive aspects of military service. And in doing so, in the eyes of those who've served, the Democrats became not simply the anti-war party, but also the anti-military party ...

"This legacy is still with the Democratic Party today. Like a boil that must be lanced, it needs to be examined before it can be overcome."

And for the Republicans you say this: "The Republican Party ... continually seeks to politicize military service for its own ends even as it uses their sacrifices as a political shield against criticism for its failed policies. And in that sense, it is now the Republican Party that most glaringly does not understand the true nature of military service." Explain that.

WEBB: I, I, obviously, strongly believe that's true. I've lived the journey. I grew up in a family that was principally Democratic Party leaning, and, like a lot of people, the Reagan Democrats, if you would, drifted away from the Democratic Party because of the positions that they had taken, not simply on the Vietnam War, but the way--the way that the veterans were being treated. Democrats tended to treat veterans, even after the Vietnam War, as victims rather than as affirmative figures. They wanted to fix this problem, they wanted to fix that problem. They want to go to Agent Orange, they want to go to post-traumatic stress. And all those things are laudable, but they don't go to the core meaning of why you serve. And the Republican Party was the beneficiary of that for a long period of time. But we've seen a, a reverse here, and I think the G.I. bill that I introduced gives you something of a microcosm in which to understand that. I, I introduced this G.I. bill my first day in office. The idea was to give to people who'd been serving since 9/11 the same educational benefits, the same right to a first-class future as those who served in World War II. We, we started working hard on this bipartisan, nonpartisan, hopefully; we have now got 58 sponsors in the Senate, 300 sponsors in the House of Representatives, and a, and a good number of the, you know, the thinking Republicans have moved to us.

And now the president says he's going to veto this bill. No president in history has, has vetoed a, a benefits bill for those who've served. So on the one hand, we have this rhetoric, which goes to what I was writing saying, "This is the next greatest generation, these guys are so great." And then we see this president, he's fine with sending these people over and over again where they're spending more time in Iraq than they are at home. He's fine with the notion of stop loss, where we can, we can make people stay in even after enlistments are done. And then we say, "Give them the same benefit that the people in World War II have," and they say it's too expensive. So I think the Republican Party is, you know, is, is on the block here to, to clearly demonstrate that they value military service or suffer the consequences of losing the support of people who've, who've served.

RUSSERT: The Pentagon, the administration and other editorials across the country have said the problem with the bill is that if, after three years people can leave with full benefits, it'll be very difficult to retain good soldiers, to have them re-enlist.

WEBB: Well, I, I would say to them that three years of accumulated service qualify you for the benefits, but you still have to serve your enlistment. I spent five years in the Pentagon--one as a Marine, four as a defense executive. I did manpower issues the whole time; I know how these formulas work. We have, as co-sponsors on this bill, John Warner, former chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Carl Levin, current chairman of the Armed Services committee; Chairman Akaka of the Veterans committee; Senator Specter, former chairman of the, the Veterans committee; Chuck Hagel, the only senator to have served as a senior official in the Veterans Administration. We know what we're doing and, and we are not going to harm the military.

What you have is 70 to 75 percent of the ground troops in the, in the Army, in the Marine Corps, have left the service by the end of their first enlistment. And those are the people that are not being taken care of. The Department of Defense does a very good job of taking care of the, the career force, but this large number of people, the overwhelming majority of people who are out of the military, that come in because they love their country, they do a hitch and then they want to get on with their lives, they are not getting the opportunity for a first-class future that they deserve.

RUSSERT: Will this bill, you think, if the president vetoes it, be an issue in the campaign? The presidential campaign?

WEBB: I, I would say the president really has a choice here and--to, to show how much he values military service. And if he were to veto this bill, I can't see how it would not become an issue in the campaign. What we want to do is get a bill--and I've been, I've been trying to keep the politics out of it. I've working--been working really hard to keep the politics out of it. We want to get a bill where Democrats and Republicans can come together. And I've, I've listened to all the veterans' organizations, I've, I've listened to other members of Congress and, and made modifications in this bill, and I think it's a very fair bill.

By Phillip Carter |  May 19, 2008; 7:36 AM ET  | Category:  Civil-Military Relations
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Webb touches on a key problem. Few of the members of the current administration have served in the military. As a veteran, I can attest to the remarkable learning experience that military service constitutes. And -- if some of those things were things you did not wish to learn, they taught caution about deploying the military if other options exist. That Bush would veto a new GI Bill is shameful. That McCain would support such a veto should disqualify his candidacy. The GI Bill has proved to be the most economically successful program ever crafted. That it helps actual people, of course, is irrelevant and cannot be mentioned in today's toxic political climate.

Posted by: H R Coursen | May 19, 2008 9:40 AM

Jim Webb came from at least two supporting perspectives and venues yesterday: first, is how we value the commitment to military service; and, is how we must realize the depth of the commitment that service requires when we go to war. In yesterday's Parade magazine which published simultaneously with Meet the Press program, Jim Webb discusses a tragic event in his Vietnam experience over his decision not to offer care to a child, wounded and had to watch dying, since the medivac copter could not be used during missions for that purpose without other endangerment.

GI Bill is a method of service valuation far greater than money as only a man or woman who has made these deep personal commitments would understand and appreciate.

Posted by: Bill Keller | May 19, 2008 3:13 PM

Whoever wins in November needs to appoint Webb as SecDef. It is going to be hard to straighten up the mess that Bush and Rumsfeld have done to the military and to our national defense. Webb could do it.

But on second thought I think he has found his niche in the Senate. He probably would not take the job without some cast iron guarantees up front from the President-Elect. He also probably knows that any promises from the person appointing him would not mean anything to Congress.

Posted by: mike | May 19, 2008 3:36 PM

Webb should be on the short list for VP.

Posted by: JD | May 19, 2008 3:44 PM

Webb is the real deal and I kind of like him right where he is, at least for the time being. With a Democratic administration, he will have great influence and can move into SecDef if the need arises. Virginia is going to elect a second Democratic senator this year (slam dunk) and getting more than 60 senators is important. And then there is the old bugaboo about having two legislators on the same ticket. I'd like to see Richardson.

OTOH, if running Webb for VP might in any way help ensure against a McCain win, then VP is the spot for him. Only problem is that he's just as vulnerable to the old "experience" canard as Obama. Of course, the peddlers of this questionable wisdom don't mention that their experience lies in having gotten it mostly wrong through the years. Unfortunately, however, much of the electorate does not fully appreciate this.

BTW, for those who haven't read his books, by all means do so. He's a terrific writer.

Posted by: Publius | May 19, 2008 4:18 PM

Welly well well well: What's with all these positive hosannas for Senator Webb. I do believe he is right on the new GI bill issue, as well as just right as Senator from the Commonwealth. His military background, however, comes from limited service in a small, insular, backwards, limited scope, overly self-important, un-managerial service; the... Ughhh Marine Corps, during Viet Nam...double Ugghhh.

He's also a verifiable hothead, having dissed American womanhood, writ large, as inproper feedstock for the Grunts. He also made a big show of resigning as SecNav over Principle?????...nobody does that nowadays.

No, I think General Casey should be the Dem VP candidate, with Gen. Shoomaker as SecDef, Gen. Sanchez AT HUD, and Doug Feith as DirInt. If some of these people are Republicans, all the better; by reaching across the aisle, the Dems can mitigate their limp wristed posture on Defense. Also we just might win....by Spin, the war on Terrisss.

Today's deployed Warriors need adult Warrior leadership/management not some Pleistocene Era has been from the Raygun administration. I think, a lot of level headed members of the Army's leadership ranks who post here would agree.

Posted by: Bleccchhhh | May 19, 2008 4:47 PM

I wonder what else has been tacked on to the GI bill that has caused Bush to threaten to veto it? Probably enough pork to fed everyone in China for 10 years is my guess.

As for Webb for VP? Give me a break! The combined Federal Government experience (pick your Dem. Presidental candidate) wouldn't even be hhalf of what John McCain has by himself. The Dem. Presidental candidate is going to have to have someone with lots of experience as VP to calm people's fears about the lack of experience of the Presidental candidate.

Posted by: Alan | May 19, 2008 4:58 PM

In order to cement my claim, I submit an Air force study that addresses important Managerial issues.....for those who did not catch it in a past posting.

Management versus legacy leadership

Posted by: Bleccchhhh | May 19, 2008 4:58 PM

I am so proud to have actively supported Webb in his campaign. Please find us more men like him.

Posted by: John in VA | May 19, 2008 5:22 PM


Yes, agree. There are so many things that people don't really appreciate. Which is kinda the moral to our tale. . .

I try to focus on my family; and some theory in this very interesting of times. Think about you playing golf, and Al in Greece, JD doing his lawyer stuff, FDC, Phil and his blogs, and everybody. My advice? Ride the tiger, that kinda stuff, which is nothing new, but then how is one to be totally original in this group?

I'm Happy to post here among these men. All of us: "against all enemies".

Posted by: seydlitz89 | May 19, 2008 5:56 PM

"I wonder what else has been tacked on to the GI bill that has caused Bush to threaten to veto it? Probably enough pork to fed everyone in China for 10 years is my guess."

Posted by: Alan

Yes, because bush's, and the GOP Congress' pork-busting record is legendary.

Posted by: Barry | May 19, 2008 6:03 PM

"His military background, however, comes from limited service in a small, insular, backwards, limited scope, overly self-important, un-managerial service; the... Ughhh Marine Corps, during Viet Nam...double Ugghhh."

Well, he's somehow managed to overcome these early-life disadvantages in an exemplary fashion. We wouldn't have had this conversation about Webb 20 or 30 years ago. Unlike a lot of people, he's grown considerably over the years. It's very hard to reject something in which one believed when younger, but Webb has been discerning enough to understand that life and political parties change. And that's a tribute to him. He's a credit to the nation and I wish him nothing but the best.

Seydltiz: Always a pleasure to see you hanging around. Try to do so more often.

Posted by: Publius | May 19, 2008 7:19 PM

"Doug Feith as DirInt"? Good god, the man writes fiction. I'm all for reaching across the aisle, but the man's at war with the Democratic Party, and with reality.

Posted by: Steve Jones | May 19, 2008 9:25 PM


I see your point, but one man's fantasy is another man's biblical truth. Some unworthy detractors (like Einstein) might point to the Bible being fantasy.

A sad truth of the intelligence community is that it has grown to cancerous proportions. They are in fact similarly designed, stovepipish entities that steal, cut and paste, and publish both finished and raw intelligence products by putting their own shop's imprimatur on it...very wasteful. In today's new Global economy, we must engineer savings and efficiency through economies of scale. Not getting this drift, most of these "intel miscreants" deserve to be done away with, from the federal teat, and instead, be made to beggar succor in soup kitchen lines somewhere....say on the mall in Washington.

Mr Feith's streamlined Intelligence apparatus. by saying that Ahmed Chalabi is good, or Source "Curveball" is good was merely removing any distractions which might muddy up the decision process of our designated leaders.

Now that we have covered the insemination portion of the intelligence cycle, I shall attempt to cover dissemination. With Doug Feith as Dirint, we will improve and hasten the distribution (Distro) of Intelligence products to those consumers whose needs are the most critical. Unfortunate events like Larry Franklin's prosecution/persecution for enabling two Aipac people to share harmless information can be avoided completely. As you know Franklin worked in Feith's Pentagon Intel shop, and as a former DAO to Israel, felt justifiably authorized to share information with our friends and Allies. Luckily, the last two AG's ,as well as that esteemed patriot AG Mukasey, have frozen the progress of the prosecution of the innocent Aipac people.

With Feith as Dirint, our stallworth allies would be on automatic Distro to all of our intelligence holdings, regardless of the source, or platform. COMINT, ELINT, HUMINT, GEOINT, IMINT, MASINT, SPAZZINT, no matter, Raw or finished product, all message traffic regarding the former would be sent to the staunchest of our allies, the state of Israel. IDF HQ, Mossad HQ and Likkud party HQ (I believe Likkud and Mossad are co-located in the same SCIF) would be the recipients. We in turn, could levy Requests for Information (RFI's) on topics of interest interest to these aforementioned agencies and receiving in return, fully massaged, fused, and properly vetted intelligence information, which will enable us to Ring/Reign the bells of freedom for time immemorial.

There was once an Army Field grade officer (a true Warrior), who posted here by the nom de guerre of MSR. I do so wish he would deign to rejoin us, to add his take on this oh so important topic.

Oh so humbly submitted, at your service always.

Posted by: Bleccchhhh | May 20, 2008 12:03 AM

As you know Franklin worked in Feith's Pentagon Intel shop, and as a former DAO to Israel, felt justifiably authorized to share information with our friends and Allies. Luckily, the last two AG's ,as well as that esteemed patriot AG Mukasey, have frozen the progress of the prosecution of the innocent Aipac people.

No doubt about it. We're on the same wavelength. Pardon any confusion - I'm new in town.

At your service,


Posted by: Steve Jones | May 20, 2008 1:05 AM

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