The life and career of Jim Webb, a Vietnam hero who could be Trump's next secretary of defence

  • President Donald Trump is reportedly considering tapping Jim Webb, a highly decorated Marine veteran and former secretary of the Navy, to be the next secretary of defence.
  • At present, Patrick Shanahan is serving as acting secretary of defence, but he has no military experience and his status as a former Boeing executive is a point of controversy.
  • It’s not clear if Webb is interested in the position, and Trump last week said Shanahan could remain acting defence secretary “for a long time.”

President Donald Trump is reportedly considering tapping Jim Webb, a highly decorated Marine veteran and former secretary of the Navy, to be the next secretary of defence.

This comes not long after the departure of retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, a respected strategist and combat veteran who resigned over apparent disagreements with the president regarding foreign policy.

At present, Patrick Shanahan is serving as acting secretary of defence, but he has no military experience and his status as a former Boeing executive is a point of controversy.


Read more: Trump is reportedly considering a blunt Vietnam War hero and former Democratic senator to be defence secretary

In this context, Trump appears to be looking for someone with a stronger background in both the military and government to take the lead at the Pentagon and Webb is apparently among the top contenders. Webb

Webb would be an interesting choice, as he’s a former Democratic senator and presidential candidate. He’s also earned a reputation as a loose cannon who once threatened to “slug” a sitting US president. But there’s also a lot about Webb that makes him a solid choice for the position.

Here’s more on Webb’s life and career.


Webb, 72, was born in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1946. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968 and went on to serve in the US Marine Corps.


Webb served in the Vietnam War in a Marine rifle platoon and as a company commander.


Webb earned the Navy Cross, the second-highest military decoration after the Medal of Honour for Marine and Navy service members, for his heroism in Vietnam in 1969. During an assault on an enemy bunker, Webb sustained wounds as he shielded a fellow soldier from a grenade but continued to fight. Webb’s conduct during the assault led him to receive the award.


In his 2014 memoir, Webb touched on the incident for which he received the Navy Cross: “I was hit by two enemy grenades while clearing a series of well-camouflaged bunkers … I was hit in the head, back, arm, and leg. The grenade’s concussion lifted me into the air and threw me down a hill into the stream. I still carry shrapnel at the base of my skull and in one kidney from the blast. But the square, quarter-size piece that scored the inside of my left knee joint and lodged against the bone of my lower leg would eventually change the direction of my life.”

Source: The Washington Post


Webb’s injuries forced him to leave the Marine Corps. He touched on how hard the experience was in his memoir: “I was staring down an emotional cliff into the vast unknown of peace, in a country that was tearing itself apart because of the war in which I had fought.”

Source: The Washington Post


Webb attended Georgetown Law school after his military service, which ended in 1972, and graduated in 1975. Subsequently, he was a staff member on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs from 1977 to 1981.

Wikimedia CommonsGeorgetown University.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan appointed Webb as assistant secretary of defence and in 1987 he was made secretary of the Navy. In that role, Webb focused on fleet modernisation and pushed to open more noncombat jobs to women. He resigned in 1988 after repeatedly butting heads with then-Defence Secretary Frank C. Carlucci.

Source: The Washington Post


Webb has long faced criticism over a 1979 article he wrote titled, “Women Can’t Fight,” in which he argued against having women serve in combat roles. He’s repeatedly apologised for the article and walked back on his statements, but continues to face backlash. In 2017, Webb declined to accept an award as a distinguished graduate of the US Naval Academy, citing impassioned opposition to him receiving it from a group of female alumni.

Flickr/Public Domain/US Naval AcademyThe US Naval Academy’s sprawling campus, known to midshipmen as ‘the yard,’ is located in Annapolis, Maryland

Source: The Washington Post


Webb eventually switched parties and in 2006 became a US Senator for Virginia as a Democrat.


In 2008, Webb was considered as a potential vice presidential candidate alongside Barack Obama, but he ultimately wasn’t interested. Webb said “under no circumstances” would he take the job.

Source: The New York Times


Webb ran as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, but dropped out fairly early on. But not before a memorable moment during a 2015 debate in which Webb said his enemy of choice was the “soldier that threw their grenade that wounded me.” He added: “But he’s not around right now to talk to.”

Source: INSIDER


After dropping out of the race, Webb signalled he might leave the Democratic party. He also said he wouldn’t vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that he hadn’t ruled out voting for Donald Trump.

GettyRepublican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) and Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.

Source: Politico


“This is nothing personal about Hillary Clinton, but the reason I think Donald Trump is getting so much support right now is not because of the racist, you know, et cetera, et cetera, it’s because people are seeing him,” Webb said at the time. “A certain group of people are seeing him as the only one who has the courage to step forward and say we’ve got to clean out the stables of the American governmental system right now.”

Scott Olson/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump speaks at a rally to show support for Ohio Republican congressional candidate Troy Balderson on August 4, 2018 in Lewis Center, Ohio.

Source: INSIDER


Webb has never shied away from speaking his mind on politics and has gone after people on both sides of the aisle. In 2004, for example, he criticised then-presidential candidate John Kerry for protesting the Vietnam War and decried former President George W. Bush for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He described the invasion as “arguably … the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory.”

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Source: USA Today


During his 2006 campaign for Senate, Webb ran on a platform to withdraw US forces from Iraq. His son was deployed in Iraq as a Marine at the time. Webb carried his son’s combat boots along the campaign trail.


During a 2006 reception for freshmen members of Congress, Webb had a heated exchange with Bush about Iraq and his desire to see his son return home. Webb reportedly later recounted wanting to “slug” the former president at the time.

Tim Rooke/GettyFormer President George W. Bush.

Source: The Hill


In 2015, Webb said he was “sceptical” of the Iran nuclear deal orchestrated by the Obama administration, which Trump has since withdrawn the US from.

Carlos BarriaIranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi, left, and Hossein Fereydoon

Source: The Washington Post


Webb’s views on US military presence overseas seem to be in line with those of Trump, who is pushing for the US to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. In 1990, for example, Webb wrote an op-ed decrying the US military’s growing presence in Saudi Arabia leading up to the first Gulf War.

Source: The New York Times


Some conservative figures, including Fox News host Laura Ingraham, have pushed for Trump to tap Webb as secretary of defence.

Alex Wong/Getty ImagesLaura Ingraham.

Source: Twitter


It’s not clear if Webb is interested in the position, and Trump last week said Shanahan could remain acting defence secretary “for a long time.”

Source: Bloomberg


Trump in a tweet on Friday denied he’s considering Webb to be the next secretary of defence, but added that he’s sure the former Marine is a “fine man.”

Source: Twitter

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