ARLINGTON, Va. – Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb talked about getting American troops out of Iraq during a sober foreign policy speech Wednesday, but reporters were more interested in getting his reaction to Sen. George Allen's taunting of a Webb campaign volunteer.
Meanwhile, Allen met with Indian-American political leaders who expressed concerns about Allen's videotaped comments Friday to a Webb staffer of Indian descent, in which Allen twice referred to him as "Macaca" and told the Fairfax County native, "Welcome to America."
Webb, after outlining his foreign policy views to the Arlington Kiwanis Club, told reporters that Allen "knew what he was saying" to Webb's staffer, S.R. Sidarth, who was recording Allen's speech in southwest Virginia.
Webb also said Allen was wrong to bully a young campaign volunteer, especially since Allen has used the same tactic of videotaping Webb appearances.
And Webb said he was particularly irritated that, during the video clip, Allen insinuates that Webb has never been to towns in far southwest Virginia like Breaks, Va., where Allen gave his "Macaca" speech.
"I've spent a good part of my life going down there not because of politics but because I have family there," Webb said, noting that Sidarth had actually stayed the home of Webb family members the night before Allen's speech.
Allen said he apologizes to Sidarth if he took any offense, but said his use of the word "macaca" was an innocent play on "Mohawk," a nickname Allen staffers gave to Sidarth because of his hairstyle. Sidarth said he believes Allen called him the first name that came into his head and that he meant to highlight the fact that Sidarth was the only person of color attending the speech.
Macaca in some contexts is an obscure racial slur, and is also a genus of monkeys including macaques.
Allen was to meet Wednesday with leaders from the US Indian Political Action Committee, which said Allen's comments have generated hundreds of emails.
"Obviously this is something that has us very, very concerned," said Sonjay Puri, a northern Virginia businessman and founder and director of the PAC, which claims 30,000 members. "The remarks are very insensitive."
Puri, who described himself as nonpartisan, said the PAC has had good relations in the past with Allen and he has been receptive to the group's political interests, which range from economic issues to immigration.
"But still, these remarks are very insensitive and shocking," Puri said in a phone interview.
While Puri did not directly address the specific alleged slur, he said the context of Allen's remarks clearly are intended to offend.
"If you read his comments in their totality, it becomes very clear now matter how you explain the phrasing it is insensitive to a young kid who is of Indian American descent," Puri said.
Puri said Allen faces a "lot of bridges to be mended."
Allen's campaign declined to comment on the meeting, deferring to Puri and other organizers.
Webb, for his part, said he hadn't spent much time looking into the incident because he had been busy preparing to outline his foreign policy agenda, which he did in Wednesday's speech.
Webb called for getting American troops out of Iraq "in the short term" and moving them to friendly Arab nations, like Jordan and Kuwait. That way, the U.S. could respond to crises in Iraq but also reassure the Arab world that it has no long-term designs there.
Webb also said Congress should ban any funding for the establishment of permanent military bases there.
"We don't need them if we're leaving," Webb said.
Webb, an early outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, has made foreign policy the centerpiece of his campaign, and in his speech Wednesday he linked the problems in Iraq to global geopolitics.
American misadventures in Iraq have worked not only to strengthen Iran and the Shiite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, but ultimately give strength to China, which has been seeking inroads in the Middle east for decades, he said.
"We have to face the fact that China represents our greatest strategic challenge," Webb said.