- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, and his Democratic challenger, James H. Webb Jr., used a national TV debate yesterday to spar over U.S. interrogation policy and the Iraq war, part of a high-profile U.S. Senate race with issues that have come to define midterm elections across the country.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Allen said he has not decided whether to support President Bush’s push to revise Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which regulates the interrogation standards of military prisoners.

Mr. Webb, 60, agreed with Republican Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia and John McCain of Arizona, two former Marines who are concerned that the president’s plan to redefine the provision to deal with terror suspects would open the door to torture of U.S. troops.

“What you’re seeing is a split between the theorists who have controlled so much of the policy in this administration, theorists who have never been on a battlefield, who have never put a uniform on, and who are looking at this thing in a totally different way from people who have had to worry about their troops and themselves possibly coming under enemy hands,” Mr. Webb said in the second debate between the two front-runners.

Most of the debate centered on the link between the Iraq war and the fight against international terrorism.

Mr. Allen, 54, reiterated Mr. Bush’s push for the United States “to stay the course” in Iraq.

When asked what “stay the course” means, Mr. Allen said, “Staying the course is meaning we don’t tuck tail and run. … This is a central battlefront in the war on terror.”

Mr. Webb disagreed, saying the United States did not go into Iraq because of terrorism, and that decision has drained the military resources needed to fight terrorism.

“We have terrorists in Iraq because we went in there,” he said.

Mr. Webb, a former Navy secretary, cited a report released last week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, saying, “Saddam Hussein was not an aligned with al Qaeda — they were natural enemies.”

He said the administration must work with Iraq’s neighbors on a plan that allows U.S. troops to leave without jeopardizing the region’s stability.

“There are limits to what the military can do,” said Mr. Webb, a Vietnam veteran. “Eventually this is going to have to move into a diplomatic environment, and that’s where this administration seems to have blinders.”

The candidates offered separate apologies — Mr. Allen for a statement he made in August that has raised questions about his racial sensitivity, and Mr. Webb for an article he wrote 27 years ago that has called into question his views on the role of women in the military.

Mr. Allen apologized again for calling one of Mr. Webb’s staffers “macaca,” the name of an Eastern Hemisphere monkey. The word is considered a racial slur in some cultures.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “I said things thoughtlessly, but there was no racial or ethnic intent to slur anyone.”

His remark also led to the resurfacing of his opposition as a Virginia legislator to a state holiday for Martin Luther King and his proclamation honoring Confederate History Month.

Mr. Webb expressed regret for his 1979 article titled “Women Can’t Fight,” in which he described the hard-core conditions of life as an infantryman in Vietnam and said he had never met a woman “whom I could trust to provide those men with combat leadership.”

Five women who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in the 1980s said at a press conference last week that the article led to harassment of women, who were admitted to the academy for the first time in 1976.

“I don’t think it was wrong to participate in the debate at that time,” Mr. Webb said. “It’s been 27 years. I am fully comfortable with the roles of women in the military today.”

Last week, Mr. Webb said he was “profoundly sorry.”

After the debate, Mr. Allen’s campaign e-mailed reporters a letter sent to host Tim Russert from retired Cmdr. Kathleen Murray, a 1984 graduate of the Naval Academy, in which she said Mr. Webb’s apology “comes too late.”

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