December 1, 2008

General James L. Jones, chairman of the Atlantic Council, was appointed this morning by President-elect Barack Obama as the 21st National Security Advisor.

  In announcing the choice, Obama called Jones "uniquely suited" for the position and said:

"He will bring to the job the dual experience of serving in uniform and as a diplomat. He has commanded a platoon in battle, served as Supreme Allied Commander in a time of war, and worked on behalf of peace in the Middle East.

Jim is focused on the threats of today and the future. He understands the connection between energy and national security, and has worked on the frontlines of global instability – from Kosovo to northern Iraq to Afghanistan. He will advise me and work effectively to integrate our efforts across the government, so that we are effectively using all elements of American power to defeat unconventional threats and promote our values."

At the Council, we couldn't agree more.  Indeed, we presented Jones with our first annual Distinguished Military Leader award in April 2007 and elected him as our chairman that June.  In his brief tenure at the Council, he has been a stellar leader, providing the vision for the launch of our Strategic Advisors Group and chairing our influential January 2008 report Saving Afghanistan: An Appeal and Plan for Urgent Action, which launched in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee and warned, "Make no mistake, the international community is not winning in Afghanistan."  That advice has been heeded, notably by the president-elect.

Helene Cooper of the NYT notes that Jones has a big job ahead of him, managing  relations and egos among the much touted "team of rivals." Everything in his résumé, though, points to his having the necessary skill set.

“Jones brings the same balance that [Brent] Scowcroft did to the job,” said David Rothkopf, author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power” (PublicAffairs). “Not only does he know how to work the Washington system,” Mr. Rothkopf said, but “he’s deeply steeped in Afghanistan, which is going to be a central front for us.” But what is unclear, Mr. Rothkopf said, is how quickly General Jones can develop a close relationship with Mr. Obama and how successfully he, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gates can define their roles on issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and terrorism.

Because of his physical proximity — the national security adviser works in the West Wing of the White House and consults with the president several times a day — General Jones will automatically serve as a counter to the State Department. But a State Department that is at war with the White House is the last thing that General Jones wants, his friends and associates say.

“He’s not the sort of person who is going to be chasing down whether Hillary went through him or not,” said one of General Jones’s friends, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He doesn’t have that kind of an ego.” General Jones, friends say, gets along well with Mrs. Clinton and has even hired some of her former staff members to work for him on the energy task force.

General Jones approaches things in a “get it done” fashion, associates say, with a propensity to think tactically. Sometimes, that can rub people the wrong way. When he began working on the security proposal for Jenin, some Israeli military officials grumbled that he thought he knew Israel’s security requirements better than they did. Israelis also worried that he would seek to impose an international force on the ground to maintain security, an idea favored by many in the international community but that still leaves some Israeli hawks queasy. But things have changed in Jenin, much of it thanks to General Jones, both Israeli and Palestinian officials say. The city that once sent waves of suicide bombers into Israel now has Palestinian security officials who have restored order. “He was able to force all of the different parts of the U.S. government to work together to make Jenin a model of economic hope, despite a very dreary past, and so far, so good,” said David Makovsky, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He brought clarity to a messy situation.”

John Barry, Dan Ephron and Richard Wolffe, profiling Jones for Newsweek, paint a similar picture:

The tall, imposing former supreme allied commander in Europe has a reputation for saying exactly what he thinks, but with a light touch. "If the president is getting off base, he's going to go in there and tell him, in that very quiet way he goes about things" says David Abshire, who served with Jones on an Afghanistan policy panel.

[...]

Along with multiple military tours overseas—a Marine brat, he grew up partly in Paris and is fluent in French—Jones had a sound apprenticeship in the arts of political warfare in the capital. As a young officer in the early 1980s, he was the Marine Corps' liaison to the U.S. Senate. There, he became fast friends with a fellow Vietnam vet, Navy Lt. Cmdr. John McCain. The two are still close. He also struck up a friendship with a rising young Republican senator, William Cohen. When Cohen became Clinton's defense secretary in 1997, he picked Jones as his military assistant. The MA is the defense secretary's gatekeeper—a job needing high diplomatic skills to handle the egos jostling for the boss's time. People who have worked with Jones say he is an impressive negotiator who gets what he wants without resorting to confrontation. He "has a very calm demeanor," Cohen told NEWSWEEK. "He has a methodical approach to problems—he's able to view issues at both the strategic and tactical level." Cohen rewarded his service by nominating him as Marine Corps commandant—from which Jones moved on up to be SACEUR.

Jones met the president-elect through Obama adviser Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader and the president-elect's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Obama was impressed with Jones's tough critique of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq War, and the two men share the view that energy is a top national-security concern. (It doesn't hurt that Jones, like the president-elect, is a basketball nut. He played for Georgetown and still shoots hoops weekly.)

AP's Robert Burns and Richard Lardner also find nothing but praise from those who know Jones best.

Obama, with limited foreign policy experience, would benefit from Jones's "natural calm and leadership instincts," says retired Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has known Jones for 38 years. "He gets to the heart of an issue very quickly and does it in a way that is very inclusive of everybody around him," Pace says.

In the view of those who know Jones well, he would bring to the White House an unusual combination of qualities that make him a respected voice on some of the most complex security issues of his time. Last year, for example, he led a commission that advised Congress on progress in training Iraqi security forces.

"Jim Jones has always been a notch or two above everybody," says Les Palm, a retired two-star Marine general who has known Jones since 1974. "He's a good tactician, obviously, in a fight. But he also has a rare combination of being a strategic thinker and a statesman. He has a tremendous ability to get people of differing views to agree. He has had a lot of different jobs that allowed him to look at things differently and to understand that a lot of times you don't solve things with brute force."

[...]

"He's a very smooth, diplomatic guy, but he's hard as nails too," says retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who first met Jones in 1991 during a U.S.-led humanitarian relief operation in northern Iraq and Turkey. "Jones works friendly until friendly doesn't get it done anymore," Garner says. "And then you're dealing with a great big guy you really don't want to be on the opposite side of."

Robert Tyrer, a Cohen associate who got to know Jones when the Marine came to Capitol Hill in 1979 and later worked with him in Cohen's office at the Pentagon, recalls that whereas most military officers find the political arena foreign, frustrating and uncomfortable, Jones found it intriguing and attractive. "He's got an extra dimension to him," Tyrer says.

Jones' bold insights are not without controversy, as Paul Richter notes in the LA Times:

Jones, an admired former Marine commandant and supreme allied commander of NATO, was appointed last November as a Bush administration envoy charged with trying to improve the often dysfunctional Palestinian security forces. As part of that assignment, he drafted a report that caused a stir in Israel by criticizing the Israeli Defense Forces' activities in the Palestinian territories. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the report, which was never released publicly, "makes Israel look very bad." Jones also reportedly favored the temporary deployment of a NATO-led international force in the territories -- a position the Israeli government would probably oppose as a potential interference to its right of self defense.

[...]

Jones has separated himself from the Obama playbook on a few issues. In 2007, he warned that setting an arbitrary deadline for removing U.S. troops from Iraq, which would presumably include Obama's campaign call to remove combat units in 16 months, would be "against our national interest." In other areas, Jones is more in harmony with Obama. He has agreed with the president-elect that the focus on Iraq has distracted from a needed emphasis on Afghanistan.

The incoming administration will face an enormous array of national security challenges.  With General Jim Jones' vision, integrity, and wisdom having such a central role in guiding them, they have a solid foundation.  

 

RELATED CONTENT