- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

Former Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr. yesterday said there is no strategic value in having U.S. troops in Iraq, speaking at his first press conference since winning the Democratic primary for one of Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats.

Mr. Webb, a former Republican, also said during the press conference at his campaign headquarters in Arlington that affirmative action programs should apply only for blacks or be opened to include “disadvantaged white folks.”

He commented about the war in Iraq during the same week the Senate rejected a proposal for bringing troops home by the end of the year.

When asked how he would have voted, Mr. Webb said he would have argued against withdrawing troops from Iraq this year and pushed Congress to state clearly, “We have no desire to occupy Iraq for a long period of time.”

“Then we could start calming down the insurgency [by] taking away the moral high ground it has in a lot of the Muslim world, and start relocating ourselves out of Iraq,” he said.

“I believe very strongly that we do not belong as an occupying power in that part of the world. Strategically, I don’t think we have any value of having American forces there right now.”

He added that once the United States shows that it has no intention of long-term occupation, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan should become “involved overtly in the diplomatic process.”

“Those countries have their own incentives to step forward and be part of the process,” he said. “They are eventually going to have to solve their own problems.”

Mr. Webb, 60, served as Navy secretary during the Reagan administration.

On Tuesday, he defeated political activist Harris Miller in the Democratic primary for the opportunity to challenge Republican Sen. George Allen, for whom Mr. Webb voted in 2000.

According to exit polls, the majority of black voters supported Mr. Miller, whose campaign portrayed Mr. Webb as a skeptic of affirmative action programs.

Mr. Webb yesterday sought to clarify his position, saying affirmative action was established to remove the “badge of slavery.”

“When they expanded it beyond that to any ethnic group other than Caucasian, it became a different sort of thing,” he said. “Particularly with the immigration patterns in the country, where we all of a sudden had such a large number of Latinos and Asians … it essentially became unmanageable in my view.

“I think we either need to revert affirmative action back to African Americans — 25 percent of African Americans are still in poverty — or we need to make it totally race neutral and open it up to disadvantaged white folks.”

Mr. Webb’s early opposition to the war in Iraq contrasts with Mr. Allen’s support for the war — and helped the new Democrat win primary votes in liberal-leaning Northern Virginia.

Late last month, Mr. Allen said he was “optimistic” about the war after visiting Iraq.

“This is a crucial time, and I believe that, by the end of this year, we are going to see far more of the security — probably three-quarters more — being led by Iraqis. That will mean, ultimately, the return home of more of our brave Americans,” the Republican senator said.

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