Reports surfaced today that President Donald Trump is considering Jim Webb, former Secretary of the Navy and later Senator from Virginia, to replace Jim Mattis as Secretary of Defense. Mattis, famously, resigned in protest a few days before Christmas due to the president’s abrupt announcement of a troop withdrawal from Syria.
Webb would be an interesting choice. A Vietnam veteran from a family with a history of military service (including a son who served in Iraq), a novelist and writer, Secretary of the Navy for Ronald Reagan, a Democratic Senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia, a 2016 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. He is certainly more than qualified for the role.
But I struggle to see why Webb would accept the nomination if it were offered. Knowing his history, I can’t see a single reason why he would work for this administration.
James Fallows of The Atlantic puts it like this in his own dive into the pros and cons of Webb at Defense: “As a friend of Webb’s I’d say to him: Are you crazy? Of course you shouldn’t take that kind of responsibility, in this kind of administration. As a citizen, I’d feel more comfortable if somehow he ended up holding this responsibility in the chain of command.”
There’s the possibility that Webb may put the country’s interests first, and he may feel that the country is best served with an experienced, knowledgeable leader at the Pentagon. But Webb also famously doesn’t suffer fools, which brought him into conflict with his superiors when he was Secretary of the Navy and, later, with George W. Bush when Webb was elected to the Senate.
The New York Times piece may be a trial balloon, floated to gauge interest publicly, useful if Webb rejects the position as it can be written off as an idea that was kicked around, then discarded, and never for public consumption. Alternatively, it could be little more than a strategic leak to win the news cycle on the first day of the new Congressional session, much as the president’s late afternoon statement from the White House Briefing Room was.
In any event, with confirmation hearings for former Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’ nominated replacement, William Barr, beginning in two weeks, I expect a nominee for Defense Secretary will be made soon.