Jim Webb, the iconoclastic former Democratic senator from Virginia who served as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, is under consideration for Defense secretary, according to an administration official with knowledge of the process.
Webb would be an eye-opening choice as a member of the opposing party who briefly ran for president in 2015.
But his views on foreign policy and military affairs align with President Donald Trump in key respects. For example, he ran for the Senate in 2006 on a platform to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, even campaigning while wearing his Marine son’s combat boots.
Whether he gets the nomination “really depends on how the military views him, how the career people view him, what his view are of Syria and Afghanistan and any number of issues,” said the official, who added that a number of candidates exist.
Webb, 72, penned a darkly prescient essay before the U.S.-led Iraq invasion in 2003 in which he warned that “those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade.”
“The Iraqis are a multi-ethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam,” he added. He wrote that in “Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets.”
The New York Times first reported Thursday that Webb is under consideration. Webb did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A White House spokesperson told POLITICO, “We have no personnel announcements at this time.”
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a Vietnam veteran, Webb is also author of the war classic “Fields of Fire,” as well as a book on how the Scots-Irish have shaped the United States.
If he were nominated and confirmed by his former colleagues in the Senate to run the Pentagon, Webb would be responsible for carrying out Trump’s decision to withdraw the 2,000 American troops from Syria in the coming months, a move vigorously opposed by former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
He would also play a major role advising Trump on the war in Afghanistan, where the president has said he is similarly inclined to bring home American troops after more than 17 years.
Even though he is now a Democrat, a number of Trump boosters like conservative radio host Laura Ingraham and The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway have been pushing his candidacy for the Pentagon job in recent days.
Hemingway has described Webb as “aligned with the best of Donald Trump’s foreign policy views.”
Webb was also briefly considered as a Trump running mate in 2016 and later for his Cabinet.
The administration official did not identify the other potential candidates but asserted that “I just don’t think there will be any more generals” like Mattis, a retired Marine four-star.
At the same time, the administration official stressed that Trump is fond of acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Mattis’ former deputy.
“He was really glowing about him” on Wednesday, said the official. “He’s very comfortable with him as the acting.”
Trump said last week that Shanahan might serve as acting Defense secretary “for a long time.”