Webb: Time to bring the troops home

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a former Marine with a son in Iraq, called on President George W. Bush on Tuesday to change course in the unpopular war so American troops can begin to come home.

“If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way,” Webb said in his party’s response to the president’s annual State of the Union Address to the Congress.

Webb emerged as a political hero last November when he upset Republican Sen. George Allen in Virginia to give Democrats narrow control of the Senate and complete the party’s sweep to power on Capitol Hill. The take-over was fueled largely by discontent with the unpopular Iraq war.

“We need a new direction. … An immediate shift toward strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq,” Webb said.

A former Republican who served as President Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary, Webb enhanced his reputation as someone willing to stand up to power in an icy exchange with Bush shortly after the election at a White House reception.

In an encounter that has been widely disseminated, Bush asked Webb: “How’s your boy?”

“I’d like them to get them out of Iraq,” Webb replied, sounding his campaign refrain and telling Bush that his son’s well-being is “between me and my boy.”

In honor of his son, Webb wore combat boots while campaigning in traditionally Republican Virginia for the Senate. In rebutting Bush on Tuesday night, he briefly mentioned the 24-year-old, Jimmy Webb, serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.

With Bush bucking public opinion and much of the Democratic-led Congress in deciding to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, the deployment of Webb’s unit was recently extended 60 days.

“This country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years,” the senator said. “Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary.”

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited