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Democratic debate 2015: Jim Webb’s really weird China rant

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

At Tuesday night's Democratic debate, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb was antsy for attention. Webb is an extreme long-shot candidate and appeared to feel that the CNN moderators weren't giving him enough time.

But when Anderson Cooper asked him about the US intervention in Libya, of which he's been a vocal critic, he decided instead he'd rather talk about Syria. Then, even more strangely, he pivoted to China, saying that's what he'd really been waiting "10 minutes" to talk about.

Here's his full comment and the exchange with Cooper as he pushed through it:

COOPER: Senator Webb, you said as president you would never use military force in Libya and the attack on Benghazi was in your words en inevitable.

WEBB: I'm trying to get in this conversation. Let's start with why Russia is in Syria right now. There are three strategic failings that have allowed this to occur. The first was the invasion of Iraq which destabilized ethnic elements in Iraq and empowered Iran. The second was the Arab spring which created huge vacuums in Libya and in Syria that allowed terrorist movements to move in there and the third was the recent deal allowing Iran to move forward and eventually acquire a nuclear weapon which sent bad signals, bad body language about whether we're acquiescing in Iran becoming a strong piece of the formula in that world.

I say as someone five years in the Pentagon and opposed the war in Iraq, whose son fought in Iraq, I fought in Vietnam. But if you want a place where we need to be in terms of our national strategy, a focus, the greatest strategic threat that we have right now is resolving our relationship with China. We need to do this because of their aggression in the region. We need to do it because of the way they treat their own people. I would say this. I've been waiting for 10 minutes. I will say this.

COOPER: You're over your time.

WEBB: You've let a lot of people go over their time.

COOPER: You agreed to the debate rules.

WEBB: On the elected authoritarian government of China, you do not own the South China sea. You do not have the right to conduct cyber warfare against tens of millions of American citizens and in a Webb administration, we will do something about that.

It's unclear why Webb thought it was so critical to get in these angry, yet weirdly banal, rants about China in a conversation that was about the Middle East. I guess those are the kind of political instincts that get you up to 0.9 percent in the polls.

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