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February 23, 2004: Kerry, Edwards, Reverend Al and Denny - Take a Break!

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Yes, in the middle eighties I was related by marriage to someone in the Reagan administration, the Assistant Secretaries of Defense for Health Affairs.  And yes, I spent an afternoon at the Pentagon and chatted with his boss, the Secretary of Defense at the time, Franck Carlucci.  And I had three or four conversations over those years with the Surgeon General, Doctor Koop.  But I never met Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, James Webb.  Or maybe I did.  I don't really remember. 

I wish I had chatted with Webb.  As I like to mention, Hemingway once said every good writer needs a foolproof, shockproof crap detector.  Webb seems to have one of those, or has one now. 

He sure spoke his mind in USA Today last week. 

Veterans face conundrum: Kerry or Bush?
James Webb, USA Today, February 18, 2004

His topic is who veterans should vote for in November, and he rips into Bush on the National Guard thing. 


... Recent statements defending Bush claim that the National Guard was not a haven for those who wished to avoid Vietnam; but it clearly was.  According to the National Guard Association, only some 9,000 Army Guardsmen and 9,343 Air Guardsmen served in Vietnam.  Considering that nearly 3 million from the active forces did so, one begins to understand why so many of America's elites headed for the Guard when their draft numbers were called. 

Bush used his father's political influence to move past many on the Texas Guard's waiting list.  He was not required to attend Officer Candidate School to earn his commission.  He lost his flight status after failing to show up for a required annual physical.  These facts alone raise the eyebrows of those who took a different path in a war that for the Marine Corps brought more casualties than even World War II.  The Bush campaign now claims that these issues are largely moot and that Bush has proved himself as a competent and daring "war president."  And yet his actions in Iraq, and the vicious attacks against anyone who disagrees with his administration's logic, give many veterans serious pause.


It seems these military guys know crap when they see it.  And they call it out.  They don't like it. 

But the most interesting thing Webb gets to, putting National Guard service questions aside, is Bush's performance as the "war president" he styles himself to be:


Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory.  To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target.  While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that.  He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace.  Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence.  There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened.  The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades.  It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves. 


Other than that Bush is, one supposes, a fine president?

No - Webb rips into Bush on issues of character and integrity, of all things. 


At the same time, those around Bush, many of whom came of age during Vietnam and almost none of whom served, have attempted to assassinate the character and insult the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with them.  Some have impugned the culture, history and integrity of entire nations, particularly in Europe, that have been our country's great friends for generations and, in some cases, for centuries. 


I guess these military guys read history - and don't believe insulting and belittling old allies is wise.  It's almost as if Webb believes when someone disagrees with your position you might listen to them, rather than attack them, or dismiss them as fools.  I wonder if he commanded this way as an officer?  Maybe it works?

Well, it's a little too late for Webb to give Bush lessons in leadership. 

But at least Bush has a good team of smart people around him.  Okay, well, maybe the people advising Bush jerked Bush around a bit - maybe they did suggest a bone-headed strategy in the "selling" of the war and in the conduct of the war. 

Bush can deal with that?  Webb says no:


Bush has yet to fire a single person responsible for this strategy.  Nor has he reined in those who have made irresponsible comments while claiming to represent his administration.  One only can conclude that he agrees with both their methods and their message....


Well, no.  Bush may not agree with any of it.  My personal theory is Bush never quite understood any of it.  But that may be what my attorney friends call a distinction without a difference. 

All in all this Webb rant is quite curious.  When a staunch Republican military Reagan guy like this publishes such a piece in a widely read national newspaper, well, something is up. 

Perhaps these Democrats eager to unseat Bush should sit back a bit and let the old-line military guys and appalled Republicans do the heavy lifting for a week or two. 


In the coming week Webb will appear on Lou Dobb's Moneyline show on CNN and a few other places.  Let him do his rant.