Note: Yesterday Senator Jim Webb was interviewed on MSNBC by reporter Andrea Mitchell (wife of Alan Greenspan)… I’ve added bold to parts I thought were especially relevant ….
Andrea Mitchell: Joining us now live from Capitol Hill is Senator Jim Webb from Virginia, a member of the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Joint Economic, and Veteran Affairs Committees. As we approach this grim anniversary of the war, where do you think Americans stand, from your own sense of it, on the success of the war and whether it is safe to pull out at this pace?
Senator Webb: Well, first, I want to say given the actions of Secretary Clinton since she’s been in, I would give this administration an “A” on foreign policy in all the areas except for the concerns that I have with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan. I share an unease that a number of my colleagues share about that area. With respect to the Iraq war, it was a strategic error, in my view, in terms of how you fight international terrorism. At the same time, our military, just as it has anywhere it’s been sent, has done a tremendous job – they have completed the tasks that have been given to them.
In terms of the withdrawal, the timeline that the president outlined and that Secretary Gates has also endorsed is a good timeline. The question is whether it actually is going to take place with respect to this residual force that’s being left behind. We really don’t know. I may be one of the few senators who has actually read the strategic framework agreement and the status of forces agreement. There is a lot of loose language in there, so I would like to see some verification that –
Andrew Mitchell: That’s the relationship with the Maliki government? Precisely, what is your unease? Your unease is that the residual force will end up being there longer or that there isn’t a big enough force?
Senator Webb: No, I think we need to remove all of our forces from Iraq. They’re not going to have stability in the region until that occurs. This is the commitment the President appears to have made, but it’s based on the sofa agreement and the strategic framework agreement, and they don’t really say that. There’s plenty of loose language in there that would allow our troops to stay longer. I don’t think we need to stay longer.
Andrea Mitchell: You don’t think the strategic agreement with the Maliki government has a cut-off date of 2011 as has been advertised?
Senator Webb: No, it has a goal. It’s not correct to say they require a different piece of paper for us to stay. I think we should be looking at areas like the construction programs that are going to be brought forward to the armed services committee. Are we going to continue to build these long-term bases in Iraq or are we really going to decide that we’re leaving?
Andrea Mitchell: I mean, your point is that there’s too big a footprint already and we really need to diminish that, and at a time when we’re about to open this enormous American embassy.
Senator Webb: I think we are in a situation with this new administration that we inherited a great deal of intransigents around the world. We need to refocus our foreign policy, and a part of that is to withdraw from Iraq at the same time that we strengthen relationships in the region. I think that’s one thing you are seeing with Secretary Clinton in her visit and also with the really top level emissaries that have been chosen by the administration such as Dennis Ross, Richard Holbrooke and former Senator Mitchell. And, by the way, I am chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific on Foreign Relations – the new approach that Secretary Clinton has started to take with Burma in Asia – these are areas where our government policy has calcified over the past eight years and we need to get different things going.
Andrea Mitchell: Now here in the Middle East today, Secretary Clinton was in Ramallah and sort of put it to the incoming Israeli government she was in the West Bank and let’s watch this. She criticized the current Israeli government’s demolition of Palestinian houses, in east Jerusalem. Clinton: “We will certainly be raising that issue. We will be looking for a way to put it on the table along with all the other issues that need to be discussed and resolved. And at this time, I think we should wait until we have a new Israeli government. That will be soon, and then we will look at whatever tools are available.” Middle East policy does seem to be on hold while we wait for new Israeli government. Do you agree with the decision to approach Syria, to try to warm up relations with Russia and use Russia to pressure Iran to try to broaden the scope if you will, of the broader Middle East policy while we wait for stronger leadership in Israel and the Palestinian authority?
Senator Webb: I do. It takes courage to try new and different things, and I think that Secretary Clinton is doing that with respect to the situation in and immediately around Israel. I think the idea of sending two delegates up to Syria is long overdue. We had an administration that would not do that. With respect to Russia, this is a very complicated relationship, as you know. Part of it is with reference to Iran, part of it is our strategic vulnerability in Afghanistan due to our supply lines. If we really are going to increase our presence in Afghanistan, when 80% of the supplies now go through Pakistan, with all of that turbulence, we have to approach either Russia as we are now doing for basically 500 containers a month that are going to start in Latvia and go down the rail line, or we’re going to have to talk to Iran, which other NATO countries now are doing for supply lines in from that side. The Russian relationship is very complicated with respect to missile defense in Eastern Europe, with respect to the situation in Georgia, and with respect to Iran. I think it is right for this administration and Secretary Clinton to be making those overtures to Russia and see if we can’t sort of unfix or refix this calcification that’s happened in our foreign policy over the past eight years.
Andrea Mitchell: Jim Webb, thank you very much for joining us from Capitol Hill.