Who Is Jim Webb? Former Senator Among Names Being Considered For Defense Secretary

Jim Webb, the former Virginia senator and Reagan-era Navy secretary, is reportedly on the short list of names to replace Jim Mattis as defense secretary.

A populist Democrat, Webb would be an unorthodox but not entirely surprising choice to lead the Pentagon, given his alignment with President Donald Trump's foreign policy views. Like Trump, Webb is deeply suspicious of open-ended military engagements in the Middle East and supports a confrontational stance toward China.

News that Webb is a leading candidate for defense secretary was first reported Dec. 31 by The American Conservative. On Thursday, The New York Times confirmed Webb is under consideration, citing three administration officials who said Webb's name has been circulating at the White House.

According to the reports, Webb is a popular choice among Trump's nationalist-leaning supporters inside and outside the administration. Prominent Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham, for example, has backed the idea of Webb as defense secretary, contrasting his foreign policy views with those of the previous Republican administration.

"Former Navy Secretary and former Asst Sec Def @JimWebbUSA would be someone to consider seriously for SecDef," Ingraham, who has the president's ear, wrote on Twitter. "His foreign policy views line up better with @realdonaldtrump and are not Bush 3.0."

Indeed, Webb has long been highly critical of the Washington foreign policy establishment, particularly when it comes to military interventions in the Middle East. He vocally opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq before it began, and he has called for a retrenchment of American commitments in the area in favor of containing a rising China.

"Nations such as China can only view the prospect of an American military consumed for the next generation by the turmoil of the Middle East as a glorious windfall," Webb wrote in the Washington Post in 2004.

Webb has not publicly revealed if he voted for Trump, but he opposed Hillary Clinton's candidacy in part due to her hawkish views as a senator and secretary of state in the Obama administration. At a foreign policy conference hosted by The American Conservative in November 2016, Webb had kind words for the president-elect.

"I would like to salute Donald Trump for his tenacity, for the uniqueness of his campaign," he said.

Webb, 72, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968. He then deployed to Vietnam, where he served as a Marine Corps company commander and was awarded the Navy Cross, one of the military's highest awards for valor.

After leaving the Marines, Webb served in the Ronald Reagan administration as an assistant secretary of defense and, later, secretary of the Navy. In that role, he prioritized modernizing the naval fleet and opening up new career fields for women.

Webb won a Senate seat as a Democrat in 2006 after switching parties. In Congress, he sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and helped pass the post-9/11 G.I. bill.

Webb is also an esteemed author and journalist. Among his most notable books are "Fields of Fire," a Vietnam War novel, and "Born Fighting," a popular history of Scots-Irish immigrants and their descendants in America.