Jim Webb, historian, Marine, Navy Secretary, senator, needs more time before he puts a period on the end of the sentence that describes the past two years. But he has some tentative conclusions:
"I believe that the administration should have brought a different set of issues to the table when it came in," Webb told CNN's John King.
He said the "momentum of the campaign" convinced the White House to move forward with health care and climate change legislation when jobs should have been their priority. Also, putting forth a health care proposal without much guidance to Congress complicated life for senators quite significantly,he said. "This health care reform debate was bubbling up through five different committees without this specific legislative framework," he said.
Webb also said that the Republican desire to persuade Americans that government couldn't work by doing everything to make government not work.
He also marshaled a strong defense of the bank bailouts and stimulus package, but said that the Bush administration did not implement the provisions in the way senators had expected. The bonus issue, which came up retroactively, killed any public support for the plan.
Webb acknowledged that he might not like the results of the November 2 election, but his Scotch Irish heritage makes him appreciate the right of anyone to protest a government that isn't working for him.
The two had a productive discussion about PTSD, with Webb making the point that no amount of counseling can remedy the disorder in a population of soldiers who are constantly being deployed.
On Afghanistan, Webb said he's holding back any specific recommendation until after December's review, but says he wants to hear the administration be more specific about goals. He's worried about Pakistan: "the more people you put in Afghanistan the more vulnerable you are to a logistical supply line" in Pakistan. Does he trust the government of Pakistan as a partner? "I've had a number of discussions with Admiral Mullen about that," he said. More transparency is needed.
Marc Ambinder is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.