- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

The Iraq war is a prominent issue in the U.S. Senate battle in Virginia pitting Democratic nominee James H. Webb Jr. against Republican incumbent George Allen.

Mr. Allen, 54, supported President Bush’s push to invade Iraq in 2003, which thus far has led to the capture of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, the killing of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi and the deaths of more than 2,500 U.S. troops.

Mr. Webb, 60, has criticized the war, railed at Mr. Allen for supporting “large-scale bad judgments” by the White House and contended that the administration’s poor policy decisions have left U.S. troops “wishing someone would speak the truth.”

Sparks are certain to fly this morning when the candidates meet for their first debate in Hot Springs, Va.

“What is not helpful for the trust or credibility of America and our will to win is those who revel in the political world, the world of ‘I told you so,’ [saying] that we never should have gone, that the intelligence of the U.S. and the world was wrong and the world would be better off if we left Saddam Hussein alone in his palaces,” Mr. Allen told veterans at the American Legion’s state convention earlier this month. “Rather than political gamesmanship, we must unite Americans.”

Mr. Webb offers a different view. “I voted for George Allen six years ago believing he might provide some leadership, I am still waiting,” he has said. “It’s not leadership to follow the administration 97 percent of the time as we become more and more deeply involved in a strategic blunder in Iraq.”

The military credentials of the cowboy-boot-wearing Mr. Allen and combat-boot-wearing Mr. Webb are vastly different.

Mr. Allen did not serve in the armed forces. Mr. Webb is a former Marine officer, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.

Mr. Webb’s military record “is to be respected and admired, no doubt about it,” said Dick Wadhams, Mr. Allen’s campaign manager. “What also is at issue in this campaign is what these two individuals have been doing the last 20 to 25 years of their lives. … James Webb has been a movie producer and author for the past 20 years — other than a short stint in the Reagan administration.”

Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, defended Mr. Webb. “Jim Webb has been an active member of the foreign policy community for years,” he said. “He is deeply familiar with security issues.”

Mr. Allen ousted Democratic incumbent Sen. Charles S. Robb in 2000. Before that, he served as state delegate, U.S. representative and Virginia governor, helping to abolish parole, strengthen education standards and reform the welfare system, Mr. Wadhams said.

Mr. Webb, a Republican-turned-Democrat, changed political parties mainly in protest of the war in Iraq.

“There is no doubt Senator Allen supported the president on going to war in Iraq and it’s very well documented James Webb did not,” Mr. Wadhams said. “That’s old history. The question now is where we go from here on Iraq. We still don’t have the foggiest position on where movie producer James Webb wants to go from here.”

Mr. Webb has said the Bush administration should state there is no intention of long-term occupation of Iraq, and that the United States should work with Iraq’s neighbors on a plan to remove troops as soon as possible without jeopardizing the region’s stability. He opposes a timetable for a withdrawal, but says the troops could be out in two years.

Mr. Singer said Mr. Allen’s approach “is to bury his head in the sand.”

“The last I heard, George Allen is saying everything is fine,” he said. “He would change absolutely nothing about the way the White House has run the war in Iraq — helping to advance a White House policy clearly not going the way the president said it would.”

Mr. Allen supports “our efforts to help the fledgling democracy in Iraq, and in standing down American forces as Iraqi forces stand up,” Mr. Wadhams said.

Many say the race could fizzle soon if Mr. Webb cannot bridge the giant gap in campaign funding.

Mr. Allen has $6.6 million, despite spending $1.5 million to air television ads in Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Mr. Webb, who has not run any ads, has $424,000.

“Allen is doing his best to capitalize on his financial advantage and he’s striving to land an early knockout blow,” said Robert D. Holsworth, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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