Atlantic Council chairman and National Security Advisor-designee Jim Jones continues to get widespread plaudits. While Hillary Clinton is a household name and Bob Gates is an incumbent getting widespread praise for his performance, Jones is a relative unknown outside establishment circles.
Arnaud De Borchgrave, UPI Editor at Large, begins a profile of Jones, titled “Global Rainmaker,” thusly:
Introducing national security adviser-designate Gen. James L. Jones recently, Henry Kissinger joked that the job was “high wire without a safety net 24 hours a day.” Jones, he explained, “will have to organize options, keep an eye on implementation, and make sure nothing is overlooked in one of the most difficult periods in our history.” Kissinger also warned Jones about the inevitable friction with the State Department (Hillary Clinton) and the Pentagon (Bob Gates).The only time things worked smoothly between State and NSC, Kissinger went on to say, was in 1973 — when Kissinger held both jobs during the Nixon administration.
In the Bush 41 administration, the ever tactful Gen. Brent Scowcroft navigated skillfully between two powerful players — James Baker at State and Dick Cheney at Defense. With Bush 43, despite her close relationship with the president, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice found herself outgunned by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Jones is Scowcroft redux. He is a soldier-diplomat — and a scholar. His towering presence compels his interlocutors to look up. Super-cool with an easygoing demeanor, Jones also has that all-too-rare gift in Washington — an institutional memory.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius noted, in a Sunday piece titled “Facilitator on Board,” that Jones’ efforts in his role as special envoy for Middle East security “helped yield one of the few recent success stories in the grinding Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.”
Jones had a lot of help, including from [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice. He was a part-time facilitator, rather than a hands-on manager. But maybe that’s the point. The retired Marine general’s approach, in the simplest terms, has been to build consensus by working on practical problems from the bottom up. The Israelis and Palestinians were dug into their positions on the big issues, and Rice’s larger peacemaking effort gradually stalled. But there was some give on the day-to-day security issues that were part of Jones’s mission.
I asked Jones what his role as Middle East envoy showed about how he would operate as national security adviser. “I spend a lot of time talking to people, getting others to buy in,” he explained. He works to “build consensus by reaching out and making sure everyone has a chance to say what they want.” He plans to keep pushing on the Israeli-Palestinian front when he’s in the White House. “It’s very important not to lose momentum,” he said. Jones isn’t a perfect national security adviser. The ideal person would have some of the strategic cunning of a Henry Kissinger or a Zbigniew Brzezinski, plus a dash of Brent Scowcroft’s self-effacing manner. But the big, confident Marine knows how to get people working together. And if he can help the Israelis and Palestinians get along, maybe he can do the same for the all-stars on the Obama foreign policy team.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.