Strong rebuttal from senator with a son serving in Iraq

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The Independent US

For once, he was not wearing the footwear belonging to his son serving with the US military in Iraq but that did not stop Senator Jim Webb from putting the boot in to George Bush.

Responding to the president's address on behalf of the recently revived Democrats, Mr Webb - just three weeks in the job - delivered a powerful rebuttal of an "unnecessary war" that the "country has patiently endured... for nearly four years".

Mr Webb, 60, once a secretary of the navy in Ronald Reagan's administration, has a personal stake in the violence in Iraq that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 US troops, 126 British soldiers and perhaps 655,000 Iraqis: one of his sons, Jimmy, is a marine serving in Iraq and his unit's tour was recently extended by 60 days.

"Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world," said Mr Webb.

Without his son's boots - a prop that he used during surprisingly victorious campaign over the incumbent Virginia senator, George Allen, last November - Mr Webb displayed during his televised speech a photograph of his father, serving with the Air Force during the Berlin airlift. As a young boy he had taken the picture to bed with him every night, he said.

A Vietnam veteran himself, Mr Webb said that he, his father and now his son had been proud to serve the country. But Mr Bush, he said, had taken the US into war recklessly. He added: "We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed." The sometimes novelist had been handed a speech to read by Democratic officials but Mr Webb choose to pen his own address which also countered Mr Bush's claims that America's middle-class was prospering. While stock markets were doing well and senior executives were being well-rewarded, he said, workers were receiving proportionally less than ever before. "When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries," he said.

It is not the first time Mr Webb has confronted the President. At a private White House reception for newly elected members of Congress last November, Mr Bush asked the Senator-elect how his son was getting on in Iraq.

Mr Webb replied that he would like to see the troops withdrawn. Mr Bush responded by saying: "That's not what I asked you. How's your boy?". Mr Webb, who avoided having his photograph taken with the President, said: "That's between me and my boy."