Will James Webb Be the Next Secretary of Defense?

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One of the odd-but-positive political rumors at the start of this odd year is that Donald Trump is considering former Senator James Webb as a successor to James Mattis as secretary of defense.

Among the reasons why this would be odd:

  • Webb last held office as a Democrat, and even ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2016 race.
  • Webb is a famously independent-minded character with no ability to suffer fools. (Knowing them both, I can say that Webb is much less willing to go with the organizational flow than Mattis has been.) In his early 40s, he was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, but he resigned from that position within less than a year (having worked elsewhere in the Pentagon for several years) because of disagreements with the defense secretary of that era, Frank Carlucci.
  • Webb is a gifted novelist, essayist, and screenwriter, who has returned repeatedly to the self-directed literary life after his periods of public service.

Reasons why it would be good news for the country, if it happened:

  • Webb is smart, tough, and principled.
  • He would instantly become the Cabinet member with most substantive knowledge of his department.
  • He would personify a response to the idea that the United States has become a “chickenhawk nation”—always at war, never willing to deal with the domestic or international consequences of war—and that the current administration itself represents the Chickenhawk Way.
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