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Webb: GOP has lost 'moral high ground'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Jim Webb, the newly arrived Democrat from Virginia, has quickly become one of President Bush's most outspoken critics on the Iraq war, blasting the administration for its handling of the conflict and charging that the new troop-level plan is ill-conceived.

"My view on Iraq is that there is nothing that has happened that was not both predictable and predicted by people with a lot of national security experience," he recently told CNN. "The situation that we're in right now with respect to the president's plan is not really a strategic change. This isn't a new strategy."

He said the United States needs to get to a point where American troops are no longer needed on the streets of Iraq, while also being in a position to bring stability to the Mideast. (Watch Webb's rise in Washington Video)

"I don't see that this plan is going to increase our ability to do that," he said.

Bush has ordered an additional 21,500 troops to be sent to Iraq to provide security for rebuilding efforts. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week voted 12-9 in favor of a resolution condemning Bush's decision. A full Senate vote is expected the week of February 5.

Webb, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, has made the Iraq issue front and center since arriving in Washington this month.

He was tapped to respond to Bush's State of the Union -- a logical choice, not only for his tough stance on Iraq, but because his come-from-behind victory in November gave Senate Democrats their one seat majority.

"I don't think, in the long run, American troops in Iraq at all is a good idea. [It] doesn't mean we're going to abandon the region, but we need to work on a formula to get our troops out of there."

He wants Democrats to use their new power to put pressure on the Iraqis, but he opposes blocking money for U.S. troops there. He said he became a Republican when Democrats cut funding in Vietnam while he was in combat there.

His ties to Vietnam are still strong. His wife, Hong, was a refugee, and he speaks Vietnamese.

Iraq is personal, too: His son, a Marine, is serving there.

But the lawmaker said his beliefs on Iraq would be the same regardless. "The responsibility of a leader is to act as though there were someone there that they had a personal responsibility toward," he said.

From Naval Academy to novelist

Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, Webb graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968. He completed training at the Marine Corps' Basic School at Quantico, Virginia, and was a Marine rifle company commander in Vietnam. He later was an instructor in weapons and tactics for the Marines.

He eventually became assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs from 1984 to 1987, before moving up to secretary of the Navy, a position he held from 1987-88.

His passion isn't just in government. He has written six best-selling, military-suspense novels and a nonfiction book. He also worked on several Hollywood feature film projects, including producing the 2000 movie "Rules of Engagement."

He also has worked as a journalist, winning an Emmy for his PBS coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut, Lebanon, in the 1980s.

Webb's victory in November caught many by surprise. He entered Virginia's Senate race late and wasn't considered much of a threat to the formidable incumbent Sen. George Allen.

But Webb eked out the victory after campaigning hard on his stance on Iraq. The new Democrat said it was the invasion of Iraq that made him leave the ranks of the Republican Party.

"As this thing moved forward, the Republican Party lost its moral high ground on national security issues. We have never been in a situation where, in my view, ... we have exported our ideology at the point of a gun," he said.

"It's not a way to conduct American foreign policy."


Sen. Jim Webb says he left the GOP because the party lost the "moral high ground" on Iraq.




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