While he insists that he is “taking it one day at a time” in pondering a possible challenge to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia sounded on Sunday as if he is clearly moving in that direction.
The one-time Navy Secretary and heavily decorated Vietnam-era Marine declined to spell out specific differences between himself and the former Secretary of State and New York senator during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. Yet, he stressed there were major differences between the two over U.S. military policy in the Middle East and the growing income disparity in this country.
“I think it’s fair to say right now we are at a cross roads as a nation” he said, “and the way that these issues are going to be resolved in the next couple of years will affect us for a very long time.”
Although the unemployment rate dropped last month to 5.9 percent, the lowest level since the financial crisis erupted, Webb argued that government policies have failed to adequately address issues of economic fairness.
“The truth is it really depends on where you’re sitting in this country,” he said. “You have a stock market that has almost tripled since March of 2009” while others are struggling. “If you’ve got capital, you’re feeling pretty good. But average salaries have gone down, loans to small businesses have actually decreased and we have a criminal justice system that is embarrassing.”
The one-time Republican-turned-Democrat was far less charitable in discussing the foreign policies of Obama and former Republican president George W. Bush, declaring, “We have not had a clear articulation of what American foreign policy is basically since the end of the Cold War.”
“So when you’re looking at places like Iraq and Syria, you’re seeing policies that can’t be clearly articulated,” he added.
Asked by Meet the Press host Chuck Todd whether he was making a broad-brush condemnation of the foreign policies of President Obama – and by extension those of Clinton, Obama’s former Secretary of State – Webb replied, “I’m saying that in terms of a clear doctrine, we have been lacking that for a very long time, and particularly as it impacts the Middle East.”
In a speech to the National Press Club late last month, Webb sparked a buzz by saying, “I’m seriously looking at the possibility of running for president. But we want to see if there’s a support base from people who would support the programs that we’re interested in pursuing.”
Some political analysts say that finding such a base within the Democratic Party likely will be Mission Impossible for the former one-term senator who has problems with women voters on abortion rights and who served as secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration.
Webb, an accomplished author and free spirit, has operated at the margins of the Democratic Party for years; he would likely be viewed as a spoiler by many party regulars who are rallying behind Clinton, the prohibitive favorite to capture the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll in June showed Webb with only two percent support among Democrats nationally compared to 66 percent for Clinton.
Still, some of Webb’s supporters including former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NB) believe “Webb could win over activists in early primary states who are uncomfortable with Clinton’s vote as a senator in 2002 to authorize war in Iraq and her support for the strategy President Obama is pursuing to fight the Islamic State,” according to an analysis by The Washington Post.
On Syria, Webb said today he was highly dubious of Obama’s strategy for training and arming so-called moderate Syrian rebels to help fight ISIS. “We now have a situation where we’re asking these freedom fighters or whatever you want to call them who were going after [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad to help us go after ISIS; and the elements that are fighting there are very fluid in terms of the people who declared their alliances.”
“I would be willing to bet that we have people at the top of ISIS who actually have been trained by Americans at some point,” he said.
Should Webb decide to jump into the presidential campaign, he would almost certainly run far to the left of Clinton’s views on foreign policy and the prosecution of the war against the Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
Clinton has been far more hawkish than the president, dating back to her unsuccessful primary campaign against Obama in 2008, before she became his first secretary of state. Her policy differences with the president during his first term were well documented, The New York Times wrote, although they were “less about underlying strategy than tactics.”
For instance, she favored “supplying arms to moderate Syrian rebels, leaving behind a somewhat larger residual military force in Iraq and waiting longer before withdrawing American support for President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt during the historic protests in Cairo,” The Times reported last August.
When asked today on Meet the Press to highlight his differences with Clinton, Webb demurred, saying he would leave that to others to do.
“I don’t think it’s for me to talk about Hillary Clinton,” he said. “I enjoyed working with her when I was in the Senate. I don’t know what she’s going to do, or if she runs, what she would run on. I’m just very concerned about these issues for the country.”
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