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The thin veneer of civility that masks opposing views on Iraq between Senators vanished Sunday in an angry exchange of words between Democrat James Webb and Republican Lindsey Graham.
In many ways, the heated exchange between the two symbolized the voter anger over President George W. Bush’s war. Like Vietnam, the Iraq conflict has divided America, destroyed friendships and strained relationships.
At times on Meet the Press Sunday, it seemed like Webb and Lindsey would come to blows as the Democrat expressed the anger that drives the majority of Americans opposed to the war and Graham spouted the administration line that it becoming increasingly difficult to defend.
Reports The Associated Press:
“Just wash your hands of Iraq,” an animated Graham said to the war critics, including the Democrat seated to his immediate right. “History will judge us, my friend.”
“It’s been a hard month, Lindsey,” Webb commiserated, wearing a tight smile. “You need to calm down, my friend.”
“Lindsey’s had a hard month,” Webb repeated.
“It ain’t about Lindsey having a hard month,” Graham snapped.
The Democrat, a Vietnam veteran, lost an effort in the Senate last week to require specified periods of home time for troops deployed in the war, his bill winning majority support but falling short of the 60 votes needed to proceed. He took sharp objection when Graham asserted that high re-enlistment numbers are a vote of confidence in the Iraq policy by the troops.
“This is one thing I really take objection to — may I speak? — is politicians who try to put their political views into the mouths of soldiers,” Webb said over his opponent’s interruptions. He placed his hand briefly on Graham’s back, then jerked his thumb in the Republican’s direction.
“Have you been to Iraq?” Graham demanded.
“I’ve covered two wars as a correspondent,” Webb said. “I have been to Afghanistan as a journalist.”
Graham: “Have you been to Iraq and talked to the soldiers?”
Webb: “You know, you’ve never been to Iraq, Lindsey.”
The Republican pointed out he’s been there seven times.
“You know,” Webb said dismissively, “you can see the dog and pony shows. That’s what congressman do.
“Why don’t you go look at the polls, Lindsey, instead of the seven or eight people that are put in front of you when you make your congressional visit?”
Graham tried to ease the tension. It didn’t work.
“Let’s — something we can agree on,” he said, placing his hand on Webb’s arm. “We both admire the men and the women in uniform. ”
“Don’t put political words in their mouth,” Webb interrupted.
The exchange ended with Graham praising the troops: “God bless them and let’s make sure they can win because they can.”
And Webb getting the final, combative word:
“I’ll let them judge what you said.”