Fighting Words and 1911s: An Exclusive Interview With Jim Webb

jim webb rules of engagement
November 18, 2015  
Categories: Op-Eds

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What you’re about to read contains excerpts and commentary from a longer interview with Jim Webb, with the full text to be published later. Breach Bang Clear does not officially endorse any political candidate, but anyone who talks about face shooting a Communist during a Presidential Debate has our respect. Mad Duo

Fighting Words and 1911s: An Exclusive Interview With Jim Webb

Chris Hernandez

Jim Webb is no longer running for president as a democrat. He may, however, run as an independent. On November 9th, I interviewed him. Near the end of the interview, in response to a question I hadn’t even planned on asking, he said The Most Presidential Thing Any Candidate Has Ever Said. I can’t even imagine the other candidates saying it. Hell, it was more presidential than anything an actual president has ever said.

The entire interview was interesting, and started really well. Webb asked what I did in the military, and we discovered we both taught pistol marksmanship in the Marine Corps. He talked about his love for the Colt 1911. I joked that I’m partial to pistols designed within the last century. He laughed and bragged about his beloved H&K P7, a gift from the German Army.

If Hillary ever touched a gun, she’d probably amputate her hand in shame. Give Bernie Sanders a gun and he’ll automatically assume the triumphant pose of a socialist propaganda poster. Offer Ben Carson a gun and he’ll call it a grain dispenser made by The Adversary. I’ll never know what Trump would do with a gun, because if I see him armed I’ll run for my life.

But Jim Webb? He’s trained with a pistol, used one in combat, and to this day loves his .45. That’s just cool.

As the interview progressed I learned a few things about Webb. He is in fact as serious as he comes across in public, although levity does lurk beneath the rough exterior. He has an experience-based, gut-level understanding of subjects that are theoretical to other candidates. He doesn’t back down from aggravating questions, even when he gets defensive and his voice goes all “get off my lawn”.


I freely admit trying to trick him; at the beginning of the interview I asked if any topic was off limits. I did this specifically to probe for a soft spot in Webb’s armor, to look for weakness his political opponents could identify and exploit. I also wanted to know if Webb was only gruff and straightforward on the surface, but behind the scenes engineers interviews like any other politician.

“Nah, nothing’s off limits,” he answered. “We can just have an open discussion. If any questions make me uncomfortable, I’ll let you know.”

Well, I did make him uncomfortable. Obviously uncomfortable. Especially when I asked the unplanned question that prompted him to say The Most Presidential Thing Any Candidate Has Ever Said. But even when I got under his skin he didn’t shut down the interview, or change the subject, or tell me to shag off and slam the phone onto the receiver.

After the interview, I planned to write about our entire conversation. I thought I’d mention his hesitant defense of his Obamacare vote, his novels’ innocuous cultural and sexual references that one political opponent twisted into a smear campaign, his heated exchange with President G.W. Bush during the Iraq War. I was going to outline Webb’s very reasonable belief that an independent can win a presidential election, and explain that he doesn’t have to pretend to come from a working-class background because he actually does come from a working-class background. I planned on writing at length about his famous comment during the presidential debate, when he seemed to joke about an enemy soldier he killed in combat.

I expected to mention that he’s twice left political parties because he chose principles and country over partisanship, that he intentionally quit the Senate after one term because he isn’t a career politician, and that he has decades of relevant experience as a statesman. I was going to point out that he wrote the Post-9/11 GI Bill, something I wasn’t aware of until we spoke. I thought I’d give examples of Webb working with his political opposition to get things done for the entire country. I was even going to point out that unlike a certain candidate who claims to “stand up for the little guy” while simultaneously taking millions of dollars from Wall Street and asking for two billion dollars in campaign donations, Webb doesn’t even have a “Super PAC” and won’t accept million-dollar donations.

Then, on November 13th, ISIS attacked Paris. And I realized the most important part of the interview was my unplanned question, which produced The Most Presidential Thing Any Candidate Has Ever Said.

So what was the unplanned question?

Of all things, it was about the screenplay he wrote for the movie Rules of Engagement. I asked it on a whim, when we were already way past his time limit. I mentioned the controversial scene where Marines fire into a crowd of civilians, the American audiences that cheered when they saw it, and asked if he was worried that it broadcast an unintended message. And I obviously pissed him off.

He was immediately defensive. He rambled a bit. He even questioned why he should have to respond.

“I worked on Rules for nine years,” Webb said. “But I actually didn’t write the final screenplay. The director owns it, and he went with a slightly different version for the film. I don’t even remember the particulars of that scene, since it’s been fifteen years since I watched it. I think it was a crowd shooting at Marines, and they shoot back. And look, I don’t want to go on and on about this, and I don’t think I need to sit here and defend or attack that movie. That’s something you should take up with the director.”

The movie looked like it portrayed mass murder. Webb seemed to be trying to distance himself from it. I was pretty sure I understood; Webb worked on a project for years, but someone changed his work into something he didn’t want it to be. Instead of telling him that, I stayed quiet and just listened. Eventually, he talked through the anger and explained why he wrote Rules of Engagement. 

“You know, the inspiration for that scene was the time I spent as a journalist in Beirut in 1983. I left about a month before the building was blown up and hundreds of our troops were killed. I spent a lot of time with the Marines, and was just amazed at how restrictive the rules of engagement were.”

Webb in Beirut, 1983

Webb in Beirut, 1983

This was thirty-three years ago. Webb is not an emotional man, and he kept an even tone as he spoke. But his frustration, even decades later, was obvious.

“At one point I was on the perimeter with the Marines, and they had a building about three hundred meters away. And we see three guys with rifles walk into the building, go up a couple floors into a room and start shooting at us. I was with the company commander, and I told him, ‘Get a TOW [antitank missile] and blow those guys away.’ He said, ‘If they’re shooting at us with rifles, we can only shoot back with rifles. We can’t escalate.’”

Seconds later, Webb said something that floored me. I’m positive no other presidential candidate has ever said anything remotely like it. It was The Most Presidential Thing Any Candidate Has Ever Said.

“And when the three guys stopped firing, the Marines had to stop firing,” Webb said. “The guys walked out of the building at sling arms, and just walked away. I said, ‘Shoot the motherfuckers!’ But the Marines couldn’t. And not even a month later, the building gets blown up.

“So when I was originally thinking about Rules of Engagement, that’s what was on my mind. I was asking how much we’re going to restrict our people from defending themselves. It’s crazy that we do that, and the other side learns our restrictions real fast. When you put people into harm’s way there are laws of war, and you respect those laws of war. But you don’t tie your people’s hands like that.

“I learned a lot in Vietnam. I operated in populated areas constantly, and there were tough moral decisions. I made some of the hardest moral decisions of my life at 23 years old. But, you have to take care of your people.’”


Shoot the motherfuckers. And take care of your people.

These aren’t the words of a jingoistic warmonger; Webb not only opposed the Iraq War, he wrote an impassioned (and prophetic) warning about its consequences. No, these are the words of a President. Not a professional politician, not an egomaniac, not a Utopian idealist, not a nice guy with no experience, but a Commander in Chief. Isn’t taking care of his people a President’s most basic responsibility?

Maybe I’ll tell you a story.

One bright sunny day a few years ago, there was this firefight in Afghanistan. American and Afghan troops in a remote valley were ambushed. A Marine captain died a hero’s death, engaging enemy with his carbine while calling for support. Three brave Afghans fell, mowed down as they scrambled for cover. The Taliban outnumbered us, and were using civilian homes as fighting positions. No civilians were in the valley; we couldn’t see any, and intelligence reports said they evacuated before the fight. But we couldn’t hit those dug-in Taliban with mortars, artillery or air strikes. Because a civilian might have been hurt.

We lost that fight. Not because we couldn’t win. Not because we were paralyzed by our losses. Not because we on the ground lacked the will. But because rules imposed from above ripped victory from our hands.

B5 Systems2

I strongly suspect the War on Terror is about to intensify. I think our last fourteen years of combat will someday be regarded as only the opening shots in a generations-long battle. I believe Paris shows us the existential threat posed by terrorism. I have to accept a bitter truth: my wartime service didn’t ensure peace in my children’s lives, or my grandchildren’s lives. Their generations will have to step forward and take up arms, just as mine has.

Someday, my son might find himself under fire from an enemy who wants to kill him, his fellow soldiers and every American citizen behind him. Maybe he’ll have to get on the radio and request permission to return fire. Maybe that request will go all the way to the White House.

The president might say that returning fire would affect the next election. Or remind my son that climate change is a bigger threat than the people shooting at him. Maybe the president, despite believing he’d “be so good at the military your head will spin”, would really have no idea what to do. Maybe he’d even answer with “I can’t lose the whole democratic party,” as one unnamed current president said about the Afghanistan War. Maybe the president would leave my son and his troops hanging, because the political fallout from letting them fight would be worse than letting them die.

But we know how President Webb would answer. Because unlike any other candidate, he’s been in my son’s hypothetical boots. He’s been under real, not imaginary, sniper fire. He didn’t just make an unverifiable (and unbelievable) claim that he tried to join the Marines, he actually joined the Marines. Rather than seek student deferments, he faced combat’s horrible moral quandaries in Vietnam. In Beirut he saw our troops figuratively crippled by politically-driven rules of engagement, before those troops were literally crippled by an enemy who had learned not to fear them.

President Webb wouldn’t put politics over his troops. He’d give two orders:

Shoot the motherfuckers. And take care of your people.”

That’s what every president should say. And it’s why I, and any American who understands the threat we face, should vote for Jim Webb.


Note: My article first incorrectly stated Webb voted against the Iraq War; however, Webb hadn’t taken office when the resolution was passed. I apologize for the error and have corrected it.

[The opinions expressed in this article are Chris Hernandez’s alone. In fact, we can’t even agree on pizza toppings, let alone political candidates.]

Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!

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breachbangclear.com_site_images_Chris_Hernandez_Author_BreachBangClear4Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LIGHT writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley and Proof of Our Resolve. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.

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Chris Hernandez

Chris Hernandez

About the Author

Chris Hernandez may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LITE writin' team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles - the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley, Proof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. When he isn't groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.


  1. Gregg


    I appreciate what you do and how you do it. Thank you for taking the time to write this up. I’m still in the Army NG and still trying to make a difference. Takng care of our people has always been the foundation of what I do. I would gladly vote for someone that also put that first.

  2. John Hiatt

    There is no doubt in my mind that Jim Webb is precisely the kind of person our country desperately needs at this time in our history and I would clearly back his run for the Presidency.


    I’m a damn furriner, so my opinions on his politics don’t matter so much, but he sounds like a good man and someone who would be a good president for you folks. I like his writing too…I’ve read “Fields of Fire” many times, and I’m looking at it on my bookshelf right now.

    That story about the ROE in Beirut though….that was All Fucked Up. I’ve never heard such nonsense in my entire life. No soldier should ever have to put up with such politically correct bullshit while in action.

    So as I’m sure we’d all agree, he was right. They shoulda shot those motherfuckers.

    And Mr Hernandez…you write with great grace and style Sir…I think “Brio” might be the correct word…and I respect your views. I’m hoping to visit my friends in Amarillo at some time in the next couple of years. If you’re near that part of Texas maybe I could shake your hand and buy you an adult beverage of your choosing. 🙂

    • Chris Hernandez

      Dammit! Our anti-furriner comment filter seems to be broken. 🙂

      When you come to Texas please let me know. I’m way south of Amarillo, but if you head down this way you’re always welcome. And I don’t drink, so I’d be a really cheap bar date.

      • Rich

        Sierra Hotel brother this was an OUTSTANDING piece!! However, as Pam pointed out, the slight error earns a Sharpshooter rating as opposed to Expert….but to reiterate ON POINT Brother!! I AGREE with most of the comments above, including your points regarding Abortion and Obamacare. In short, while WE don’t have to AGREE on every position that a Candidate lays out or has stood for, there is ONE underlying thing that WE should absolutely INSIST of OUR Leaders and that is that they have CONSISTENT and VERIFIABLE record of PRINCIPLED LEADERSHIP that rests upon a solid FOUNDATION of personal INTEGRITY. Jim Webb is One of the FEW (if not only) LEADER who can CONFIDENTLY pass this “Litmus Test” in 2016. In closing, like the Furriner above said, I would really like to SHAKE you hand as well for 1) your SERVICE to OUR Nation, and 2) for an article that NAILED IT!! If you ever find yourself traveling to the Islands (the Big 50) look me up and Dinner’s on MY DIME!! Mahalos & God Bless

  4. Pam

    I respect the very real perspective of this article. However, I must bring up an error.Webb never voted against the Iraq War, because he wasn’t in elected office when that vote happened. He first ran for office in 2006, when he was trying to take the US Senate seat from George Allen who did vote for war every time that George W. Bush asked him to.After elected in ’06, Webb voted to continue funding the war because he didn’t want to end the war through cutting funding. Rather as a US Senator he encouraged Obama to set an exit date for Iraq shortly after Obama took office. The Democrats respected Webb’s opinion on military affairs, and he was very influential that way.

    • Chris Hernandez

      Got it, thanks Pam. That’s my mistake, not something he said to me. I’ll add a correction this evening after work.

  5. Ray

    I’ve been a Webb fan for years and closely follow him on Twitter. I’ve read several of his books and they are fantastic. They really give the reader an idea of who he is as a person and what kind of President he would be. He has my vote for 2016, but getting the word out is tough. He needs to more aggressively campaign. As an OEF Vet, I understand that Webb is exactly the person we need leading our country.

  6. Jeff Hagood

    Jim Webb in my opinion is the only man tried and found to be qualified to receive respect from Americans, our allies and America’s enemies. His trials didn’t come from the operating table, the real estate market nor is his life full of deceit and greed and His pockets aren’t lined with foreign money. We must have a President who has morals, dignity and backbone. One who walks softly and carries a big stick!

  7. Ron Pecoraro

    This country is in need of a great man to be president! None of the candidates running in either party fits the bill. Jim Webb does!

  8. Juan Vitali

    I, for the most part like his approach and politics. Except for his ill informed position on “white privilege”. He believes we don’t need affirmative action isn’t really needed anymore and that Latinos don’t qualify. I wish he was right but he is wrong on this. Given the most recently opened wounds I hoped he would have changed his mind but he has and he won’t. And that worries me.

    • Chris Hernandez

      I don’t like his stance on abortion or his vote for Obamacare. But considering the dramatic polarization occurring inside the US and the existential threat posed by forces outside, I accept that abortion and Obamacare aren’t important enough to change my vote. I personally think white privilege is made-up nonsense; however, even if you sincerely believe the opposite, I think you can agree that more pressing issues exist.

    • Brandon

      Webb’s General position on affirmative action is that it should be based on need (poverty) not race. It’s not that Latinos don’t qualify, but that their ethnicity isn’t the determinging factor. Not sure if that makes it better as his is admittedly a very different approach.

  9. Darly Smyth

    Semper Fi…what happened in VN hauntsFOREVER!

  10. Joe

    “President Webb wouldn’t put politics over his troops.” How refreshing would that be? We need to make this happen. I mean it. Jim Webb is whe the military and really the entire nation needs as Commander in Chief.

    • Rich

      A breath of FRESH AIR indeed….a PROVEN LEADER who realizes the Needs of a Nation come before the Hyper-partisan quarrels we are presently witnessing between the EXTREME right and left.

  11. Colleen Fraser

    Jim Webb is too moderate to be a Republican OR Democrat. He has the experience I believe our country currently needs more then ever—which is why he will be getting my vote.

    • Baker

      When someone wants government intervention in domestic affairs they’re a democrat, when someone wants government intervention in foreign affairs they’re republican, when someone wants government intervention in both foreign and domestic affairs they’re a moderate, and when someone wants government intervention in neither they’re an extremist.

  12. Richard Lane

    Good Article. I have pondered Jim Webb for a couple decades. He is often too sensible to be a politician and yet too often looks and sounds like one. I could probably vote for him but there are too many good Reps who could do the job as well. I would like to see him make a legit independent run…

    Semper Fi

    R. Lane, Capt. USMC(Ret)

    • Pam

      I’d disagree that any of the Republicans could do the job just as well, and the point of this article is why. None of the front runners have any military experience, and what CH says here is true — Webb takes his responsibility to his people very seriously, first with the Marines he commanded and then with the American people as an elected official. He has also served in government for many years in various capacities, and don’t forget that he resigned his Secretary of the Navy job because he felt that Reagan was cutting back too far. He also published an op-ed against the Iraq War in ’02, and said that the war would destabilize the Middle East, lead to the rise of Iran, and that the people wanting to invade didn’t intend to leave. And look where we are today. The man is intelligent and well-informed, and is brave enough to speak the truth.Webb is ready to be commander-in-chief on day one. He’s also a very hard-working man, and would be willing and able to do the work that being president requires. He was a power house as a Democrat, working on legislation and also making speeches as needed. Don’t forget the rebuttal to Bush’s SOTU speech shortly after Webb was elected, and then that great rebuttal to Romney’s 47% remark.

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