The Trump administration is reportedly considering Jim Webb, a former Democratic senator opposed to the Iraq war who served as Navy secretary under Reagan, to replace Jim Mattis as Defense Secretary on a permanent basis.
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The one-term Virginia senator, an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq who briefly ran in 2016’s Democratic primary but was overshadowed by better-known and better-financed candidates, is in the running for the Pentagon post, according to three officials who spoke to the New York Times.
Representatives for Vice President Mike Pence and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney have contacted Webb, according to one official, while another confirmed his name has been “circulating at the White House.”
Opposed to both the never-ending Middle Eastern conflict and the Iran nuclear deal, and hawkish on China, which he called “the greatest strategic threat that we have right now” during his short-lived primary run, Webb appears to be a good foreign policy fit for the Trump administration’s new direction.
A Vietnam veteran, Webb briefly registered on the 2016 campaign’s media radar when asked who he was most proud to have as an enemy, answering “I would have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he’s not around right now to talk to.”
Webb was elected to the Senate for his first and only term in 2006 after switching to the Democratic Party. He briefly mulled running as an independent presidential candidate after dropping out of the Democratic primary in late 2015, claiming his views were no longer in line with mainstream Democrats. He helped pass the post-9/11 GI Bill and covered Asia-Pacific on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Under former President Ronald Reagan, he spent three years as assistant Defense Secretary before being promoted to Navy Secretary in 1987, only to leave the following year in protest over cuts to the military.
Mattis handed in his resignation letter last month, after Trump’s unexpected announcement that he would pull the military out of Syria – fulfilling a campaign promise but counteracting the former general’s advice. While Mattis initially planned to step down in February, Trump “essentially” fired him a few months early, appointing his deputy, former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan, to take over on an interim basis.
With much of military leadership opposed to Trump’s proposed drawdown in Afghanistan – a proposal most vets and many Americans nevertheless support, according to recent polls – the administration has had to cast its nets wider in the search for new Pentagon leadership. Trump does not appear to be in a hurry to replace Shanahan, hinting he might be around “for a long time” during his visit to troops in Iraq over Christmas, but other names reportedly under consideration include Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), and Jim Talent, a former Republican senator.
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