WASHINGTON - When senators from opposing parties call each other "friend" and pat each other as they talk, there's a fighting chance they're angling to wring each other's neck.
So it appeared on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday when Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina testily exchanged views on President Bush's Iraq policy and troop welfare. An impromptu troop surge debate turned into a temper surge.
"Just wash your hands of Iraq," an animated Mr. Graham said to the war critics, including the Democrat seated to his immediate right.
"History will judge us, my friend," he said.
"It's been a hard month, Lindsey," Mr. Webb commiserated, wearing a tight smile. "You need to calm down, my friend."
"It ain't about Lindsey having a hard month," Mr. Graham snapped.
The Democrat, a Vietnam veteran, lost an effort in the Senate last week to require specified periods of home time for troops deployed in the war, his bill winning majority support but falling short of the 60 votes needed to proceed.
He took sharp objection when Mr. Graham asserted that high re-enlistment numbers are a vote of confidence in the Iraq policy by the troops.
"This is one thing I really take objection to - may I speak? - is politicians who try to put their political views into the mouths of soldiers," Mr. Webb said over his opponent's interruptions. He placed his hand on Mr. Graham's back, then jerked his thumb in the Republican's direction.
"Have you been to Iraq?" Mr. Graham demanded.
"I've covered two wars as a correspondent," Mr. Webb said. "I have been to Afghanistan as a journalist."
Mr. Graham: "Have you been to Iraq and talked to the soldiers?"
Mr. Webb: "You know, you've never been to Iraq, Lindsey."
The Republican pointed out he's been there seven times.
"You know," Mr. Webb said dismissively, "you can see the dog and pony shows. That's what congressmen do. Why don't you go look at the polls, Lindsey, instead of the seven or eight people that are put in front of you when you make your congressional visit?"
The exchange ended with Mr. Graham praising the troops: "God bless them and let's make sure they can win because they can."
And Mr. Webb getting the final, combative word: "I'll let them judge what you said."