‘Cantankerous’ Jim Webb wouldn’t last long as SecDef, predicts former GOP advisor

President Trump is reportedly considering former Senator Jim Webb as a replacement for former Defense Secretary James Mattis, whose resignation took effect January 1. Mattis resigned in protest of Trump’s order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. After being blindsided on Syria, Mattis wrote in his resignation letter that he’s stepping aside because Trump has the “right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned” with his own.

Webb, who served as Secretary of the Navy in the Ronald Reagan administration and ran for president in the Democratic primary in 2016, opposed the Iraq War and more recently criticized former President Barack Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya and Syria.

“Webb is famously cantankerous and I wonder if he would last long in a Trump cabinet,” warned a former national security official who served in past Republican administrations. “He’d also likely be at war with the top generals within about a week.”

Dov Zakheim, who served with Webb in the Reagan administration, said during a phone interview with Jewish Insider this week that Webb “wouldn’t be a bad choice at all.” According to the former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Planning and Resources, Webb is “a serious, tense guy who stands for what he believes in. This is a man of integrity, who has strongly-held opinions. He would be very capable to serve in this position.”

But Zakheim cautioned that while Webb would be closer to President Trump than Mattis, “the thing that I would ask about him is simply, how well would he do with a president who changes his mind so often? I think that’s important to bear in mind that when you have strongly-held views, it’s not easy to work for this President. We’ve seen that with Mattis and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.

Webb has a mixed record on Israel. According to Morris Amitay, former Executive Director of AIPAC, Webb’s voting record on Israel is the “worst [he’s] ever seen.” As a senator, Webb opposed a resolution expressing support for Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in 2008.

However, Webb also slammed the Obama administration for the Iran nuclear deal. “I believe that the signal that we sent to the region when the Iran nuclear deal was concluded was that we are accepting Iran’s greater position on this very important balance of power, among our greatest ally Israel, and the Sunnis represented by the Saudi regime, and Iran,” Webb stated during a televised debate in 2016.  

Elliott Abrams, who served in multiple foreign policy positions for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, told Jewish Insider that Webb “fits perfectly into Walter Russell Mead’s description of ‘Jacksonian’ Americans and their foreign policy views. He opposes most foreign military involvement, hates our enemies, and thinks that if we have to fight, we have to fight to win.”

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