Keeping the peace in the White House
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    Exclamation Keeping the peace in the White House

    Keeping the peace in the White House

    By Bennett Roth
    Examiner Staff Writer 1/25/09

    In the early 1960s, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, lived with his aunt and uncle in Alexandria while he attended Fairfax County’s old Groveton High School.

    Jones was a big man on campus, quite literally, at 6 feet 4 inches and also because he was fluent in French and a star basketball player.

    “He was a jock. He also had incredible manners. He made French tapes for his French teachers,” said Chip Jones, the general’s cousin and housemate at the time.

    Now that Jones has been given responsibility for coordinating national security policy, he will need every bit of charm, toughness and cultivation he can muster.

    The 65-year old former commandant of the Marine Corps and supreme allied commander in Europe parachutes into the West Wing at a critical time as Obama seeks to fulfill his pledge to pull most of America’s forces out of Iraq while stepping up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

    Jones faces the formidable task of not only overseeing a national foreign policy team within the White House but also coordinating actions among competing bureaucracies in Washington, most notably at the State and Defense departments. He will have to deal with such oversized personalities as the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and presidential contender who has her own enthusiastic base of support within the Democratic Party.

    “One of Jones’ biggest jobs is to be the go-between between the president and the secretary of state,” said I.M. “Mac” Destler, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy who has written extensively about national security advisers. “It is particularly important he be trusted by both of them.”

    The delicacy of the internal diplomacy was made clear last Thursday when the president, Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., Jones and Jones’ deputy, Tom Donilon, paid a courtesy call on Clinton at the State Department, rather than summoning her to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    Jones goes to the White House without close personal ties to Obama, but his stellar reputation should put him in good stead with a president who puts a premium on educational and professional credentials.

    “Jones has the most stature of any [National Security Council] adviser in history,” said James Jay Carafano, a national security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

    But Carafano warned that Jones must take care not to be undercut by Cabinet members with their own agendas.

    “A team of all-stars doesn’t mean an all-star-team,” Carafano said. “You can have brilliant people. But if they don’t talk to each other, that won’t work very well.”

    Jones also faces suspicion from liberal activists in the Democratic Party, who have expressed frustration with Obama’s choice of a national security team they view as too hawkish.

    In addition to Clinton, who initially voted to authorize force in Iraq, the team includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration and a supporter of the troop surge in Iraq.

    Jones has warned against a too-hasty pullout from Iraq.

    “If we’re perceived to have failed [in Iraq], you’re going to have a massive increase in the number of jihadists around the world, and it’s going to spread,” Jones said in a recent speech to the Atlantic Council, a group he chaired that promotes U.S. leadership in international affairs.

    In 2007 Jones also led a commission appointed by Congress that concluded that Iraqi security forces would be unable to secure the country’s borders against conventional military attack in the near future.

    Tim Carpenter, the national political director of the Progressive Democrats of America, said the Jones appointment irked the party’s left wing because Obama did not try to offset his views with a more liberal pick on the security team.

    “What we’re wondering aloud is why President Obama has so rigorously selected top advisers and Cabinet members who favored the [Iraq] invasion and who have shown very few signs of subsequently rejecting what Obama has called the ‘mind-set’ that led us into war in the first place,” Carpenter said.

    But Jones’ admirers say that he has the temperament to deal with powerful figures and fashion consensus among opposing views.

    “He’s not a shouter and a pounder,” said Maj. Gen. Les Palm, the executive director of the Marine Corps Association, who has known Jones since the mid-1970s. He related how Jones was able to resolve a contentious battle between the Marine Corps and the Air Force over plans to build an Air Force Memorial in the late 1990s.

    The Marines were adamantly opposed to the proposed Air Force memorial site near the Marines’ Iwo Jima memorial on Arlington Ridge. But the Air Force had powerful financial backers, including Ross Perot Jr., the son of the wealthy Texas businessman and former independent presidential contender.

    The stalemate was broken after Jones took over as Marine Corps commandant. He immediately scheduled a lunch at the Pentagon with Perot and the then-chief of staff of the Air Force, Joseph Coors Jr. of the Colorado beer company family. By the end of the day, according to Les Palm, Jones had convinced the men to accept a different location for the Air Force Memorial, on the grounds of Fort Meyer.

    Even though Jones looks the part of a tough military man, he often disarms people with his worldliness and sophistication, which he owes in part to spending much of his youth in Europe, where his father worked for International Harvester.

    “He comes across as much more of an internationalist than you would normally associate with the popular image of a Marine general,” said David Chavern, the chief operating officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Chavern noted that Jones even wears European-style casual clothes.

    Jones most recently worked at the chamber, where he helped craft recommendations for a new energy policy that included proposals for more alternative energy technology as well as opening more sites for domestic oil and gas drilling, both offshore and inland.

    Jones, a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, has been coy about his political affiliation and has worked for Republican and Democratic administrations. After serving as a platoon and company commander in Vietnam, he worked as a military liaison to the Senate during the Carter and Reagan years. His first boss was Arizona Republican John McCain, the former Vietnam prisoner of war who was later elected to the House and Senate and who waged an unsuccessful bid for president against Obama this year.

    Jones also worked in the Clinton administration in the late 1990s as an assistant to Secretary of Defense William Cohen, former Republican senator from Maine.

    Though Jones has led a serious career, he has a lighter side, said his cousin Chip Jones. He recalled that the NSC adviser, a country music fan, once belted out a song with Toby Keith for guests at Jones’s residence when he was stationed in Europe.

    The title of their duet? “Oh Lord, It’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.”


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