Webb Urges Caution On Iraq
Former Navy Secretary talks war and peace at NPS.
Thursday, November 14, 2002
When the CIA reached out and touched Al Qaeda with an air-to-ground missile last week in Yemen, it was seen by some as a signal of U.S. intent and willingness to track down enemies and kill them. As the assassination of a suspected Al Qaeda leader, the operation also said to those enemies that the U.S. has a long reach-even if Osama bin Laden''s fate remains unknown.
The message was not lost on James Webb, onetime Marine platoon leader, former Secretary of the Navy, and now novelist. During a speech at Monterey''s Naval Postgraduate School on Nov. 7, Webb advocated for this new sort of warfare that some have called for following Sept. 11, 2001.
Rather than try to engage enemies on a large scale, as the U.S. has done in the past, Webb and others think the military should be concentrating its energies on quick, lightweight strikes and remote actions such as the Yemen hit.
"These guys want to die," Webb said of international terrorists. "If that''s so, we should make sure they die on our terms."
This comment drew loud applause from the assembled students, mostly junior to mid-level Navy and Marine officers. Webb''s comments on Iraq, however, drew a more subdued response from the men and women who might end up there.
"I am very concerned about the direction the country may be going with regard to Iraq," he said.
As a veteran who saw what happened firsthand in Vietnam and as a PBS correspondent who covered the failed U.S. peacekeeping mission to Beirut in the early ''80s, Webb feels strongly that America should not be in the business of occupying other nations, even if many neo-conservatives push for U.S. control of Iraq.
Webb said the only piece he''s ever written for the Wall Street Journal that was not printed was a column warning against U.S. occupation of foreign countries. He wrote it on Sept. 12, 2001.
Like many other notable opponents of war in Iraq, Webb has impeccable military credentials. He won two purple hearts and the Navy Cross in Vietnam. He was made the Secretary of the Navy in 1987 under President Reagan after serving as a counsel to the Congressional Committee on Veterans'' Affairs.
Webb has civilian currency too, primarily as the author of six novels. The first, Fields of Fire, is considered the classic Vietnam war novel and has been compared to Norman Mailer''s The Naked and the Dead. Based on his experience as a marine infantry officer in Vietnam, it''s being made into a movie that will be filmed on location in southeast Asia.
At the Naval Postgraduate School, Webb spoke and took questions from the audience on a wide range of topics, from "expansionist China" to the threat of North Korea to the power of the media.
As for pursuing international terrorists, he''s all for actions like those taken in Yemen last week. The terrorists, he said, are "working the seams" between recognized enemies, unwitting nations and nations that condone terror.
"We should be clear that if [other nations] can''t control them, we''re going to get them," he says.