Fighting Words and 1911s: An Interview With Jim Webb
This interview was first published on Breach Bang Clear on November 18th, 2015.
Jim Webb is no longer running for president as a democrat. He may, however, run as an independent. On November 9th, I interviewed him. Near the end of the interview, in response to a question I hadn’t even planned on asking, he said The Most Presidential Thing Any Candidate Has Ever Said. I can’t even imagine the other candidates saying it. Hell, it was more presidential than anything an actual president has ever said.
The entire interview was interesting, and started really well. Webb asked what I did in the military, and we discovered we both taught pistol marksmanship in the Marine Corps. He talked about his love for the Colt 1911. I joked that I’m partial to pistols designed within the last century. He laughed and bragged about his beloved H&K P7, a gift from the German Army.
If Hillary ever touched a gun, she’d probably amputate her hand in shame. Give Bernie Sanders a gun and he’ll automatically assume the triumphant pose of a socialist propaganda poster. Offer Ben Carson a gun and he’ll call it a grain dispenser made by The Adversary. I’ll never know what Trump would do with a gun, because if I see him armed I’ll run for my life.
But Jim Webb? He’s trained with a pistol, used one in combat, and to this day loves his .45. That’s just cool.
As the interview progressed I learned a few things about Webb. He is in fact as serious as he comes across in public, although levity does lurk beneath the rough exterior. He has an experience-based, gut-level understanding of subjects that are theoretical to other candidates. He doesn’t back down from aggravating questions, even when he gets defensive and his voice goes all “get off my lawn”.
I freely admit trying to trick him; at the beginning of the interview I asked if any topic was off limits. I did this specifically to probe for a soft spot in Webb’s armor, to look for weakness his political opponents could identify and exploit. I also wanted to know if Webb was only gruff and straightforward on the surface, but behind the scenes engineers interviews like any other politician.
“Nah, nothing’s off limits,” he answered. “We can just have an open discussion. If any questions make me uncomfortable, I’ll let you know.”
Well, I did make him uncomfortable. Obviously uncomfortable. Especially when I asked the unplanned question that prompted him to say The Most Presidential Thing Any Candidate Has Ever Said. But even when I got under his skin he didn’t shut down the interview, or change the subject, or tell me to shag off and slam the phone onto the receiver.
After the interview, I planned to write about our entire conversation. I thought I’d mention his hesitant defense of his Obamacare vote, his novels’ innocuous cultural and sexual references that one political opponent twisted into a smear campaign, his heated exchange with President G.W. Bush during the Iraq War. I was going to outline Webb’s very reasonable belief that an independent can win a presidential election, and explain that he doesn’t have to pretend to come from a working-class background because he actually does come from a working-class background. I planned on writing at length about his famous comment during the presidential debate, when he seemed to joke about an enemy soldier he killed in combat.
I expected to mention that he’s twice left political parties because he chose principles and country over partisanship, that he intentionally quit the Senate after one term because he isn’t a career politician, and that he has decades of relevant experience as a statesman. I was going to point out that he wrote the Post-9/11 GI Bill, something I wasn’t aware of until we spoke. I thought I’d give examples of Webb working with his political opposition to get things done for the entire country. I was even going to point out that unlike a certain candidate who claims to “stand up for the little guy” while simultaneously taking millions of dollars from Wall Street and asking for two billion dollars in campaign donations, Webb doesn’t even have a “Super PAC” and won’t accept million-dollar donations.
Then, on November 13th, ISIS attacked Paris. And I realized the most important part of the interview was my unplanned question, which produced The Most Presidential Thing Any Candidate Has Ever Said.
So what was the unplanned question?
Of all things, it was about the screenplay he wrote for the movie Rules of Engagement. I asked it on a whim, when we were already way past his time limit. I mentioned the controversial scene where Marines fire into a crowd of civilians, the American audiences that cheered when they saw it, and asked if he was worried that it broadcast an unintended message. And I obviously pissed him off.
He was immediately defensive. He rambled a bit. He even questioned why he should have to respond.
“I worked on Rules for nine years,” Webb said. “But I actually didn’t write the final screenplay. The director owns it, and he went with a slightly different version for the film. I don’t even remember the particulars of that scene, since it’s been fifteen years since I watched it. I think it was a crowd shooting at Marines, and they shoot back. And look, I don’t want to go on and on about this, and I don’t think I need to sit here and defend or attack that movie. That’s something you should take up with the director.”
The movie looked like it portrayed mass murder. Webb seemed to be trying to distance himself from it. I was pretty sure I understood; Webb worked on a project for years, but someone changed his work into something he didn’t want it to be. Instead of telling him that, I stayed quiet and just listened. Eventually, he talked through the anger and explained why he wrote Rules of Engagement.
“You know, the inspiration for that scene was the time I spent as a journalist in Beirut in 1983. I left about a month before the building was blown up and hundreds of our troops were killed. I spent a lot of time with the Marines, and was just amazed at how restrictive the rules of engagement were.”
This was thirty-three years ago. Webb is not an emotional man, and he kept an even tone as he spoke. But his frustration, even decades later, was obvious.
“At one point I was on the perimeter with the Marines, and they had a building about three hundred meters away. And we see three guys with rifles walk into the building, go up a couple floors into a room and start shooting at us. I was with the company commander, and I told him, ‘Get a TOW [antitank missile] and blow those guys away.’ He said, ‘If they’re shooting at us with rifles, we can only shoot back with rifles. We can’t escalate.’”
Seconds later, Webb said something that floored me. I’m positive no other presidential candidate has ever said anything remotely like it. It was The Most Presidential Thing Any Candidate Has Ever Said.
“And when the three guys stopped firing, the Marines had to stop firing,” Webb said. “The guys walked out of the building at sling arms, and just walked away. I said, ‘Shoot the motherfuckers!’ But the Marines couldn’t. And not even a month later, the building gets blown up.
“So when I was originally thinking about Rules of Engagement, that’s what was on my mind. I was asking how much we’re going to restrict our people from defending themselves. It’s crazy that we do that, and the other side learns our restrictions real fast. When you put people into harm’s way there are laws of war, and you respect those laws of war. But you don’t tie your people’s hands like that.
“I learned a lot in Vietnam. I operated in populated areas constantly, and there were tough moral decisions. I made some of the hardest moral decisions of my life at 23 years old. But, you have to take care of your people.’”
Shoot the motherfuckers. And take care of your people.
These aren’t the words of a jingoistic warmonger; Webb not only opposed the Iraq War, he wrote an impassioned (and prophetic) warning about its consequences. No, these are the words of a President. Not a professional politician, not an egomaniac, not a Utopian idealist, not a nice guy with no experience, but a Commander in Chief. Isn’t taking care of his people a President’s most basic responsibility?
Maybe I’ll tell you a story.
One bright sunny day a few years ago, there was this firefight in Afghanistan. American and Afghan troops in a remote valley were ambushed. A Marine captain died a hero’s death, engaging enemy with his carbine while calling for support. Three brave Afghans fell, mowed down as they scrambled for cover. The Taliban outnumbered us, and were using civilian homes as fighting positions. No civilians were in the valley; we couldn’t see any, and intelligence reports said they evacuated before the fight. But we couldn’t hit those dug-in Taliban with mortars, artillery or air strikes. Because a civilian might have been hurt.
We lost that fight. Not because we couldn’t win. Not because we were paralyzed by our losses. Not because we on the ground lacked the will. But because rules imposed from above ripped victory from our hands.
I strongly suspect the War on Terror is about to intensify. I think our last fourteen years of combat will someday be regarded as only the opening shots in a generations-long battle. I believe Paris shows us the existential threat posed by terrorism. I have to accept a bitter truth: my wartime service didn’t ensure peace in my children’s lives, or my grandchildren’s lives. Their generations will have to step forward and take up arms, just as mine has.
Someday, my son might find himself under fire from an enemy who wants to kill him, his fellow soldiers and every American citizen behind him. Maybe he’ll have to get on the radio and request permission to return fire. Maybe that request will go all the way to the White House.
The president might say that returning fire would affect the next election. Or remind my son that climate change is a bigger threat than the people shooting at him. Maybe the president, despite believing he’d “be so good at the military your head will spin”, would really have no idea what to do. Maybe he’d even answer with “I can’t lose the whole democratic party,” as one unnamed current president said about the Afghanistan War. Maybe the president would leave my son and his troops hanging, because the political fallout from letting them fight would be worse than letting them die.
But we know how President Webb would answer. Because unlike any other candidate, he’s been in my son’s hypothetical boots. He’s been under real, not imaginary, sniper fire. He didn’t just make an unverifiable (and unbelievable) claim that he tried to join the Marines, he actually joined the Marines. Rather than seek student deferments, he faced combat’s horrible moral quandaries in Vietnam. In Beirut he saw our troops figuratively crippled by politically-driven rules of engagement, before those troops were literally crippled by an enemy who had learned not to fear them.
President Webb wouldn’t put politics over his troops. He’d give two orders:
“Shoot the motherfuckers. And take care of your people.”
That’s what every president should say. And it’s why I, and any American who understands the threat we face, should vote for Jim Webb.
Read the original article at http://www.breachbangclear.com/fighting-words-and-1911s-an-exclusive-interview-with-jim-webb/
Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at email@example.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).
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Tags: Beirut, Jim Webb, Presidential Debate