Interview of GENERAL JAMES L. JONES,
USMC (Ret.), former National Security Advisor and NATO Supreme Allied Commander
Conducted by LINCOLN P. BLOOMFIELD, JR.,
Chairman of the Board, Henry L. Stimson Center
BLOOMFIELD: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the
Stimson Center. I’m Linc Bloomfield. We had overwhelming RSVPs for today’s
program; it’s no surprise. Please welcome a familiar face, General James Jones, the
former National Security Advisor. Thanks for coming, sir.
When we first conceived of the Chairman’s Forum, the idea was to get a little
bit past the in basket, the issue of the day, the story in the news, to a slightly higherlevel
perspective. And nobody embodies the spirit of this forum more than my guest
today. General Jim Jones has served the United States in many capacities his entire
adult life: forty years in uniform as a United States Marine, rising to the top position
as our nation’s 32 nd Commandant of the US Marine Corps, member of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, he commanded our largest alliance as Supreme Allied Commander of
NATO, he was simultaneously the Geographic Combatant Commander, and
Commander of US European Command at a time when I think it spanned 90
countries, including all of Africa and Europe from Iceland to Eastern Russia and
everything in between.
So someone who has had highest levels of military command and experience
suddenly transitioned to the highest levels of civilian policy‐making; that, actually, I
find rare. I might be missing a few here, but there aren’t that many people who have
served at the highest levels of the military who have moved across to the highest
levels of civilian policy‐making. We see General Officers in the intelligence
community, in Homeland Security, and other czar positions and whatnot, but I’m
thinking of George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Alexander Haig, Colin Powell. The
list … there may be a few I’m missing, but that’s the club you’re in.
I want to ask you first of all, General Jones, of all the attributes of military
leadership that you’re quite comfortable with, going into the White House, what was
different about a civilian top‐level job? What was the rest of it that you had to adapt
JONES: The big difference is that an order is a basis for negotiation in the
BLOOMFIELD: There’s a start. Well, the White House is supposedly pretty
powerful. When they call and say “this is the White House calling,” people usually …
you can usually hear their heels clicking together even as civilian agencies. Was that
JONES: I found that the biggest imperative to get right with a new
administration is to make sure that you’re as well‐organized as you can be as to how
it’s going to work. And I think the biggest challenge was to … and for me it was
difficult because I did not know the president elect very well, I had met him maybe
half a dozen times. I knew no one in the West Wing. So on January 20 th everybody
came together, really, for the first time. There may have been a couple of meetings in
Chicago, but there wasn’t a lot of overlap. So the real challenge, I think, was to figure
out very quickly what works for this president: How is it that you can best serve?
How is it you can best organize what your area of responsibility is to provide that
We—in the research and discussions—figured out that he was very much a
bottom‐up type person. In other words, that the decisions were going to be made, at
least on national security, were going to be driven by a centrifugal force known as
the National Security Council, around which the interagency would pivot, with a
couple of absolute requirements: one is, that it be an inclusive process, and that
anyone who has equities, or stakeholders in the interagency should be at the table
through the four levels of decision‐making, starting with the Working Groups, and
the Deputy’s Committee, and the Principals Committee, and then the full NSC.
That was very exciting, actually, to be able to recreate a National Security
Council that was somewhat different in terms of its operation, that certainly wasn’t
top‐down driven, but—as I said—was bottom‐up, was very inclusive in terms of the
participation around the table. And to be able to interview, and even hire, really
quality people, but also make them believe in this system. And there were many
ways in which we did that.
But at the end of the day I think some of the things we did early on, we
guessed right on. One was combining Homeland Security and the National Security
Council, which was a very good move as it turns out. And the personalities mesh
very well at the leadership position and also at the staff level.
There were some things, though, that we could have done better. The budget
for the National Security Council on January 20, 2009 was about $6 million, and we
were $2 million in the hole on January 21 st . The real budget for the National Security
Council after two years there was about—should be about—$24 million. We’ve
never been able to get it to that level, which is disappointing to me, and I put it in my
final report I think, that as important as that organization is to basically making the
trains run on time and keeping the plates balanced on the bamboo poles so that they
don’t come crashing down all at once, is difficult, and it’s got to be—Jim Locher and I
have talked about this before—it’s got to have (the NSC, in order to be successful), in
my view has to have agency‐like qualities, but at a very small level. It has to have a
budget, it has to be funded, and too often it runs on a lick and a promise.
BLOOMFIELD: It has changed in size, though, over the decades; it’s been
small, and it’s been large. What’s the right size today—and looking forward—for the
JONES: If you agree that the National Security portfolio is more diverse now
than ever before—in other words, it’s not just about the Defense Department, and a
little bit of the State Department, and the NSC—but it includes things like
cybersecurity, it includes the family of asymmetric threats, it includes economic
issues. And you have to build in the communications system to make sure that you
have competent people branching out to other agencies and departments, I think the
total NSC commitment—I’m talking about from the National Security Advisor to a
watchstander in the situation room—is about 350 people.
BLOOMFIELD: You mentioned economics. You combined Homeland and
NSC, but there was an Economic Security Council. There are certainly economic
advisors, finance has always been a special province in our government and in
others—walled off from other agencies—and yet the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs,
Admiral Mullen said not long ago that debt is our number one threat, above all of the
other major national security threats.
JONES: And he offered to return some of the money that we …
BLOOMFIELD: Well, he may have a chance before the handover. The
economy of effort at large does seem to be a theme that’s suddenly being imposed
on the United States of America, and I guess my question is: Should there be so many
walls between competencies? Is economics really so far afield from national security
at this point?
JONES: No, and to the contrary Linc, I think national security… I mean from
my standpoint I think one of our biggest challenges … I mean the Chairman said that,
and I would say an equal concern of mine, which is a national security concern,
would be our competitiveness globally.
As a matter of fact one of the things I will never forget about my tour as
National Security Advisor is the day the President asked me to lead a small
delegation composed of the Secretary of Commerce, the US Trade Representative,
the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense up to Capitol Hill to talk to the
leadership about the need for export control reform as a national security issue.
This is a 21 st century issue, and how we handle this issue is going to affect the
United States. I came back from my tour in Europe and Africa as NATO [Supreme
Allied Commander] really despondent about the number of times I heard leaders in
Europe and Africa say “you know, we really appreciate the United States coming
here and analyzing all of our problems and telling us what we do, but what we really
appreciate is the Chinese giving us everything that we need to develop ourselves
with.” Or words like “we would really like to buy US products, US technology, but it’s
just too hard, and you put too many strings on it, and by the way we can by it from
the French or Israelis or the Germans or the Japanese without any strings attached.”
We have a system that worked well in the 20 th century, when we were the
unquestioned global leader in so many areas. We need to take another look at
ourselves in order to be competitive in the ways that we’re going to have to be to
meet the challenges that are coming, not only economically but in other spheres.
This is the world that we shaped in the 20 th century, so we got what we asked
for. And now we find that some of our institutions and some of our elected
representatives are living in a different century, they’re not focusing on the
environment that we’re in. And like any business, if you don’t understand the
environment you’re in, you can’t compete. So it’s time to really take a look at our
laws, our regulations, our policies, and to empower the greatness of America. When
we face challenges, we’ve always overcome them. And we are definitely being
BLOOMFIELD: That’s a very interesting comment, and the business analogy
is probably apt because the bureaucracy is quite content to live amongst itself inside
the beltway. And the question is: Who’s the customer, and are they in tune with the
speed of business?
You mentioned export control, so let me pivot off of that. This is a process
question. It is traditional, I would venture to say, that when an Administration
comes in they do policy reviews and they say: “Let’s take a look at export controls,
let’s look at space policy, let’s look at nonproliferation, let’s look at arms control
issues.” The list is long. And then they push it out into the bureaucracy, saying “come
back with a revised policy.” But you’re giving it to all the people that are in that 20 th
century architecture that you just described, and I would guess that rare is the
bureaucrat that says “why don’t you just disband my office, fire me, because I’m
really not relevant to what is needed out there today.”
And so, in the case of export control, Secretary Gates spoke up and said, let’s
scrap the whole thing—new agency, one list, one law—which was quite different
from what the bureaucracy, including my colleagues in my old bureau, doing
defense export controls, would have wanted. What’s your reaction to that? What’s
the right way for an administration to affect relevant change on this list of policies
when they come in? Do you ask the bureaucracy to tell you what you should do? Or
do you bring in a whole new change and impose it on them, or what?
JONES: It’s been my experience that everyone in Washington is for change.
There’s nobody who fights change except when it’s imposed on them, and then it’s
not fun. As long as you’re okay, you’re happy to change everybody else.
I don’t think, given the pace and intensity of the daily workload, that it’s
possible to accomplish the type of reorganization that we need from the inside. We
can do some things, but if you start going down that trail, then that’s all you’re going
to do, and bad things are really going to happen around the world. We did
Goldwater Nichols—I see Jim sitting here—you know, that was done from the
outside. I mean it was inside the Legislative Branch, but it was opposed by every
sitting Service Chief unanimously, with a very well‐orchestrated campaign to block
it. I think the vote was ninety‐nine to nothing in the Senate, if I’m not mistaken. I
think it’s going to have to be done from the outside, but I think there are some things
that can be done.
For example, one of my big concerns about our future of national security has
to do with energy. I’m still unconvinced that we have a strategic energy plan that
most Americans understand or that’s been adhered to. Instead, I think we have an
ala carte energy policy where somebody like Boone Pickens spends a few million
dollars and you hear about wind and solar and gas for several months, and then that
disappears. Then another sector of our energy portfolio spends money, and you
hear about that for awhile. But nobody’s really put it all together, and no
administration, including this one, has really grabbed the energy problem and made
it a truly national security issue in a way that we can explain what the energy
portfolio is, measure it against the technology capabilities of every element in that
portfolio, and then present a coherent picture of how we’re moving down that trail
for five years, or the next ten years.
I think that’s a critical aspect and a critical shortcoming of the overall
discussion of our national security policy. And I failed to make the case adequately
to have a Senior Director in the National Security Council for energy. By the time
January 20 th of 2009 came around, they had already decided how they were going to
do the energy portfolio, and I said “look I’ve got enough on my plate right now, but
we’ll watch it.” But, when I left the White House, the President asked me what I
would have done differently—what I wish I could have done but I didn’t get done—
and I said, clearly, “energy.”
BLOOMFIELD: Well, just to tip my cap to people on the outside of the
government, there are many people who run NGOs, and academic and scientific
experts in energy, there are CEOs, there are technology players. There’s a lot of
talent and knowledge out there … people writing about it, etc.
Let me serve up to you a possible strategic‐level national security way to look
at it. For decades we’ve been subject to a cartel on the price of oil—it’s not perfect,
but even in Vienna a couple of weeks ago you could argue it was still functioning. Is
the neutralization of a cartel, that puts leverage on the United States of America, a
worthy national security goal, or is that a bridge too far?
JONES: Well, that may be one of the effects, but it’s not the prime reason that
you’d go about this. I think the prime reason that you’d go about this is because it
has to be done. The good news is there’s really an abundance of energy. I don’t know
of any country that has more diversity and potential for diversity in its energy
portfolio than the United States.
And as we get into this issue of oil sands and oil shale, you really do have a
potential escape valve here where it could dramatically change things if we do it
correctly: if we do adopt an energy strategy that is good, that we empower the
Department of Energy and specifically the Secretary of Energy to be the go‐to guy on
all of energy, not just nuclear energy, which has been the past. But I think we know
when the President turns to the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State on
matters of energy he should have a single point of reference that we haven’t had for
a long time.
BLOOMFIELD: But the Defense Department, I believe, uses something like
11% of the nation’s energy. And you began this today by saying an order, at least in
the military, starts the negotiation. Would an order be productive in the defense side
… and, to be fair there’s a lot that’s starting to happen on the defense side in both
facilities and operational energy … but would a more concerted mandate that this
will happen, we will do this, let’s move, and put the resources behind it [be
JONES: Well, when you have an energy portfolio that’s as diverse as ours is—
scattered over nine major departments and agencies, maybe more, which spawns
thirty to thirty‐two oversight committees and subcommittees on Capitol Hill—how
do you get coherence?
The Secretary of Defense goes to see the two Appropriations Committees and
two Armed Services Committees. The Secretary of State has a limited appearance
schedule. The Secretary of Energy could be actually … that’s all he’d be doing, is
going to these different Oversight Committees. I use this as an example of something
that, I think, is really simple to understand and really needs to be fixed. It’s hard to
understand why we don’t do it.
BLOOMFIELD: Well let’s pivot from that, and suggest that maybe that is
symptomatic of the way a lot of things work inside the government. I’m cheating a
little bit, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I would guess you came into government
from the perspective of someone who sat at a combatant command, at alliance
headquarters, with regional briefings on a daily basis, wondering why the diplomats
didn’t have anybody regionally based. They’re either in a capitol working one
country, or they’re in Washington, catching all the meetings and phone calls, and
running the bureaucracy.
I guess my question—because I want to talk about the interagency players
bit by bit—but structurally, what did you want to see happen, coming in, and what
would you still like to see happen? Is this the right way to organize … let’s go back to
the ‘47 National Security Act, but looking at how we do diplomacy, media, all the
competencies … and now you have Homeland Security, which could probably outdo
anybody on the number of oversight hearings they have to go to… what’s the right
way to do this, that is more efficient, and has a better use of people’s time, and gets
more output for input?
JONES: Well, with regard to the National Security Council itself, with how it’s
organized, every President has the option of doing it anyway they want. I think
that’s a good thing, to be honest with you. I happen to believe that the organization
that serves this President has the right focus; it reflects his analytical desire, his
desire for debate, his desire for different views to be aired all the way up until the
time that he makes a decision. I can say without any fear of exaggeration that he
does get that.
Through the review of the Afghan strategy, for example, the media liked to
call it “dithering.” Well, I’ll tell you, it was pretty intensive dithering. If that’s what
dithering is, then I’m for it, because it really brought a lot of different views together,
there was a lot of passion, a lot of discussion, there were people who felt very
strongly about certain things, we all got to know each other a little bit better as a
result of that length, and when the President made his decision, everybody saluted
smartly, which is kind of the way it’s supposed to work. So, I think that for this
President, the organization is sound.
I would like to see some of the support mechanisms for the NSC more
formalized instead of a little bit too ad hoc in terms of funding, in terms of hiring, in
terms of some of the support mechanisms that you have to have. But the
organization, I felt very good about, in terms of how the President was being
informed as to the key issues that he had to decide on.
BLOOMFIELD: But let me go back to something that you said when you were
in NATO. You visited Afghanistan …
JONES: I didn’t mean it.
BLOOMFIELD: I hope you did. Because I think you said, years ago, something
that both General McChrystal and Petraeus embraced, which is: “We’re not going to
succeed in this mission by military force alone.” That’s what you said, if I’m correct.
JONES: That’s correct.
BLOOMFIELD: So that sort of points to: What are the nonmilitary tools in the
kit? And I take your point about President Obama’s deliberative process, but you’ve
got seventeen intelligence agencies, you’ve got a State Department that has just had
its budget request cut by, what, eleven billion dollars when Defense went down nine
So, proportionately, it’s orders of magnitude greater. We’re not building up
the nonmilitary toolkit. What’s your comment on which way we should be going and
which way we are going?
JONES: Well, it is worrisome. I believe that in the 21 st century, at least for as
far ahead as I can see, American leadership, for it to be substantive and effective, is
going to have to be of a little bit different take than it was in the 20 th century, which
was—in the last half of the century—really the American half of the century in
terms of global leadership, global preeminence, not only militarily but economically.
You can argue the cultural expansion around the globe of things American was what
people aspired to in millions and millions of different ways.
This is a different century. This is not a century, so far, where we are faced
with a future‐classic—a conventional—war with a major power. The asymmetric
threats: proliferation, the energy problems, the unification of narco‐trafficking,
organized crime and terror, which are increasingly collaborating together, is a real
threat—it’s not just a national threat, it’s an international threat.
So I think as we look at the so‐called Arab Spring breaking out, the solution
set is going to have three characteristics to it. One is the security pillar, and you’ve
got to have that. But accompanying that, you have to have an economic package that
gives people who don’t have any hope, hope for a better future. That’s the answer to
the terrorist threat, really. The radicals preach that we’re the evil, but if we’re able
to come at them with a plan where their lives are going to get better in the future,
economically, and their children’s lives are going to be better, that’s a powerful tool
to counter the terrorist propaganda. And the third one is governance and rule of
law, and I include corruption and all of those other things.
But those three pillars have to kind of be working together. If only one of
those works—and usually our strong suit is the security pillar—and it’s not
accompanied by the other two, then you probably have a much longer and much
bigger problem because, eventually, the foreign military presence in other countries,
for long periods of time in a fight, regardless of whether you’re trying to help them
or not … bad things start to happen.
We learned that lesson after World War II; we rebuilt Europe, we rebuilt
Japan. That was an example of an enlightened view of things. The Marshall Plan, I’m
told, politically wasn’t very popular in this country, but we went ahead and did it.
I’ve heard some talk—that I find very much agreement with—about thinking of a
way in which the international community of the half‐nations if you will, to include
the newly wealthy nations like Brazil and India and other rising economic powers,
can get together and help these countries migrate towards a freer society, a more
democratic society, perhaps.
I think Egypt is extremely important. In a short period of time we understand
that we cannot afford to lose Egypt to become another Iran or something like that.
But it’s not going to be just about the military here, it’s going to have to be the
security package plus some economic package which can be international. And I
think the United States can play a huge role in helping [to] develop that. And then
the governance and rule of law piece I think is extremely important.
BLOOMFIELD: Well you’ve used words like “aspiration,” you’ve talked about
perception, you mentioned propaganda. Is it not possible that the United States
could be writing some big checks and not getting the perceptual result among the
Pakistan comes to mind in the recent past, where we’ve made these longterm
pledges of billions of dollars, but the anti‐Americanism doesn’t seem to be
affected by that. And I think the question is: Can you elaborate on what it is that the
United States can be doing? In addition to the President associating our goals with
the aspirations of people around the world, which I think is fundamental … but
beyond that, how do we get into that space?
Secretary Gates gave a speech in 2007 at Kansas State, I think, and he talked
about the media. And he said the enemies of the United States, the extremists are
using these new forms of media to great effect. We invented half of this stuff, but it’s
being used against us, [and] we need to get our game up. Are there things we’re not
doing that we should be considering in this 21 st century environment to get that
perception across of what we stand for, what we intend to do, and how it affects
people on the street?
JONES: That’s really the million dollar question. One of my conclusions after
four decades in uniform is that we can’t want things for people that they don’t want
I think I learned that as a twenty‐two year old second lieutenant in Vietnam.
When I left Vietnam in 1968, if somebody had asked me, “What’s your opinion of the
South Vietnamese Army? Do you think they’ll fight if left alone to face the North
Vietnamese?” I would have said “Absolutely not.” From what I saw, from where I
was … there were some good units I’m sure, but I didn’t detect—in the people that I
was around and in the army that we were supporting—the will to really achieve.
They were happy to let us do it, but I wasn’t sure that they were…
BLOOMFIELD: Care to venture a comment on the Iraqi security forces as we
face these deadlines?
JONES: Well, I think they’ve been given the tools. I probably think that they
will be okay. I’m not sure that that okay will necessarily translate with what we
would like, but I think that the Iraqi security forces will be adequate to do what the
government of Iraq wants them to do. I’m a little worried about what that might be.
But I don’t think that they’re going to be faced with an external threat anytime soon
that’s going to put that to the test, like the South Vietnamese army was.
But the point I’m trying to make is that if you have a country like Egypt,
where this was not a terrorist‐inspired movement, this was a bottom‐up cry for
transparency, a better life, better representation, better hope for the future
economically, better governance, better rule of law, and a cry for a different kind of
leadership. It was somewhat inspirational in the way that it happened, and so the
question for us now, which is strategically important for Egypt, is what do we do
You can be sure that, just as thirty years ago, when Iran fell, there was a cry
for transparency and openness of government and better lives for the people, and
look what we got. It didn’t quite work out that way. You can be sure that underneath
the radar, forces that do not want this democratic movement—that do not want an
Egypt to emerge with this type of government, and this type of society—are hard at
work on this. So the question is, how is this going to work out?
Egypt is to me one of the pivotal countries that we really have to watch. It’s
an opportunity for us to lead in a different way, to bring economic incentives. And I
think that, frankly, the administration has already shown a little courage here in
terms of an economic package, but it needs to be bigger than that, and it needs to be
international in scope. And that’s what I mean by some sort of Marshall Plan to
offset the forces that are trying to steer this thing in a bad way.
BLOOMFIELD: Well that’s very interesting, because you did talk about post‐
World War II Japan, Europe, then you mentioned Iran, where it went the other way,
and you said the forces under the radar are hard at work. And the question is, do we
have the tools, if we wanted to deploy them to help with transparency, governance,
economic reform, judicial sector, teaching young people how to be effective
executives, and all that?
JONES: I think we do, and I think that this is a classic situation where
American know‐how leadership has to be brought to the fore, and we have to reach
out to a whole‐of‐government concept. You’ve mentioned things that have to
happen from about four or five different agencies just off the cuff. And we need to
make the adjustments that we need to make, whether it’s legislatively or in the
executive branch in order to provide that kind of guidance.
One thing I’m sure of, Linc, is that not too many governments on this planet
want to consider a 21 st century with a diminished American leadership role. The
alternative is not something they’re looking forward to. They very much want us to
play the traditional role that they expect us to play, and they’re very disappointed
when we don’t rise to that challenge.
We have to analyze our own situation, we have to analyze the environment
we’re in, and we have to have the courage to change from within. It’s slow in our
democracy; we eventually figure it out. The question is: Will we figure it out in time?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, I want to touch on Congress. You mentioned it. During
your military career you’d be able to sit in front of the Armed Services Committee,
and a four‐star in uniform is a pretty impressive presence, and there was a lot of
deference, although there were some hard questions and a few dissents.
JONES: Didn’t last long.
BLOOMFIELD: Right. From the perch of the White House, watching the
whole Administration making its case to Congress and seeing the phone calls and all
that, what is your assessment of the way the Executive and Legislative Branches,
irrespective of politics, get their business done in world affairs, and is there a
different vision that you could foresee of either convergence between these two
branches to get in the same locker room and work this thing out on the big things, or
is it fine the way it is?
JONES: I don’t think it’s fine the way it is. As a matter of fact, I took the job as
National Security Advisor because I knew I didn’t have to be confirmed.
But I think everybody here has a feeling that we have to get back to a more
civil political dialogue. We have to understand that on issues of national security,
different opinions are fine, but partisanship shouldn’t play a role.
I’ll use the example of the START treaty. One of the great successes, I think, in
the recent years has been … you can call it whatever you want, some people call it
the reset between us and the Russians … it’s a fascinating study, in terms of how
things can change so rapidly in combination of common interest and personal
regard on the part of the leadership of the country for two leaders who happen to
hit it off, and that relationship propels the weight of both countries towards a
certain goal. It was amazing.
But at the end of the day the United States was relegated to watching one of
the most important treaties of our modern time relegated to a lame duck session in
Congress; and that was purely partisan. There was a lot of effort made to bridge that
gap before we came to the vote. And we made strong effort to consider the red lines
of the minority—in this case the Republican Party in the Senate—a lot of visits on
the Hill to explain exactly where we were, we asked our negotiators to be
completely transparent with both sides and the leadership on both sides. And at the
end of the day, for partisan reasons, we dragged it all the way down to a lame duck,
last‐minute session that, frankly, diminished us in the eyes of the world, and
certainly in the eyes of our interlocutors in Russia.
BLOOMFIELD: Well let me slide right into national security strategy, if I may,
JONES: The answer to your question is I think we need to get back to a level
of civility on national security issues that is free from just pure partisan politics. In
other words, if we live in an era where one side says, “I’m against it because they’re
for it” on national security issues, that’s not the way you want to run this country.
BLOOMFIELD: But accepting, if you do, that there were concerns about, for
example, whether we will still have a functioning nuclear establishment x years
hence, or whether missile defense would or would not move forward, backward,
neutral, what would be the fate of the program. There were a lot of champions of
different pieces of this who were hanging onto their piece, if I could at least posit
that much. And the reason I raise national security strategy, is I watched two of
them under President Bush’s Administration, the second one was similar to the first,
but it was a reaction to 9/11, preemption, etc.
The NSS that came out a year ago reacted to that, it said we’re going to be
more engaged, we’re going to be working more collaboratively, etc. I’m not sure
whether you agree with me on this, but it didn’t seem to put a mark on the wall that
said: “These are the four or five things that are either going to make the United
States the best it can be, including setting an example that wins it a leadership status
in the world, or will break this country and be a huge burden on our ability to
function and excel and prosper.”
They never mention major powers by name, and maybe that’s for good,
political reasons, but I wanted to ask you about major power relationships, because
if China, if Russia in thirty years moves into a very adversarial position and decides
that the Americans are just simply the burden on their future, and their aspirations
are in direct contradiction to our presence in the world, that’s a different outcome
than one where we are able to function congenially and prosperously and
So my question about the reset, just to start there, is: Do you think we’ve
gotten past a post‐1991 situation where Russia started to move in a democratic
direction, has a democratic direction, but … you know, there are a lot of issues there,
there’s a lot of mistrust there. The previous President was pushing NATO expansion
pretty far into their neighborhood, which seemed to incur … and I’m just throwing
this out as a devil’s advocate—and missile defense was the unanswered question,
not far from their borders. And it seemed like Soviet thinking found new life. How
do you rate the reset, and what should we really be aiming to do in five to ten years
to get this major power relationship into a place that conforms precisely with our
vision of a peaceful world?
JONES: Well, there’s no doubt in my mind that if you publish a national
security strategy where you name names, people are going to react. I’m always
amazed that people are surprised that relations between nations aren’t any different
from relations between two people. If you’re insulting to someone that you’re
talking to, they’re going to remember that, regardless of what words you use, but it’s
going to color your relationship. And nations are kind of the same way—perhaps a
little more pragmatic in the sense that you have to work here and you have to work
there—but the relationships are affected by the words you write, and the words you
say, and the speeches you make.
In a democracy as free as ours is, there are a lot of people saying a lot of
things, and it’s sometimes … a lot of people spend a lot of their time trying to figure
out: What is the US policy?
You know, one of the things that was interesting in the post‐Cold War dealing
with our Russian contemporaries, they say “you all never followed your own
doctrine.” And we said “that’s right, that was complete subterfuge, we don’t follow
our doctrine, we write it for you so you can figure it out.” This open society has so
many wonderful things to it, but one of the attributes is it can be a little confusing
As far as I’m concerned, I think the question with regard to Russia was, for
the last half‐dozen years: Where do you want Russia to be in the next twenty or
thirty years? Do you want them outside of inside of your Atlantic arc, and where do
the Russians want to be? Do they want to be inside or outside?
One of the characteristics, I think, of the National Security Advisor’s job is you
should at least devote some time to understand how the other side—whoever
you’re talking to—looks at this very same problem. How do they see things from
their way? Whether they’re right or wrong and whether you agree with them or not,
at least some part of your time should be to try to understand the other guy’s
And where Russia was concerned, one of the catalysts of the reset was Iran.
I’ll never forget the dialogue where the US and the Russians came together in
London in early ’09 for the first meeting between our two Presidents. We had a brief
interchange about Iran and President Medvedev, across the table to everybody’s
shock—maybe even his own side—said “you know, on Iran, I think maybe you’re
more correct than we are.”
And that was the beginning of a relationship that ended … well it isn’t over
yet … but it carried on into the cancellation of the sale of the S‐300s, our sharing
intelligence with them about the Iranian’s secret nuclear facility, and on and on and
on. It expanded into membership in the WTO and everything else. So it’s been a very
positive development. It’s not blind, it’s not naïve, there are a lot of problems still
etween the two societies, but I think you can look back on the last couple of years
and say, “you know, I think Russia has signaled”—especially by their performance in
Portugal in the NATO Summit—“that they want to be inside the new Atlantic arc.”
That’s certainly, I think, where we want them to be. So I think we continue to work
together. You don’t put your blinders on, and you don’t be naïve, but I think this is a
better direction than the path of confrontation.
BLOOMFIELD: I’m trying to compare the productivity you describe in that
dialogue with what you previously described with Congress.
And the question I have is: Would it make any difference if there were a more sort‐of
simplified, robust, headline, banner‐level set of conclusions (we want Russia in the
Euro‐Atlantic arc, they do as well, in the next five to ten years), to drive and inform,
and set a magnetic field for the particular issues that come up between the
Is there space for more strategic‐level oomph or clarity on the simple things
so that all the people that this institution and many others in Washington—all the
people who are working so hard on one or two or three sets of issues or regions—
have an idea that these are the big, big things that we’re all working toward?
JONES: I mean, the biggest challenge, I think, in our jobs, the more senior you
get, is to resist the temptation to become tactical. And unfortunately, it’s the easiest
thing to get sucked into.
Staying strategic is really what you want to do as much as you can. There are
a lot of people out there who are quite good at implementing good strategy. Making
good strategy is really the hard part. And if we can get better at doing that, I think
that’s really, really important.
I, like many others in this room, have felt the influence in our military careers
of what we call the 12,000 mile screwdriver from Washington. You know, whether
you’re out there trying to implement some strategy … [you’re] also being
micromanaged in the implementation. And, I think, to our President’s credit, there’s
very little of that micromanagement going on in the conduct of operations, which is
BLOOMFIELD: Let me ask you a little bit about NATO, and then a couple of
interventions and then we’ll let people who are very keen to ask you questions have
the floor. You were the Supreme Allied Commander, NATO stepped out of area and
went to Afghanistan … first major military operation … they’ve taken the lead in
Libya. One could argue that these are major steps forward, there’s a lot of
operational—if you will—long‐term benefit from these engagements. One could also
argue that it’s exhausting both the resources and the will of the NATO governments,
eing in these rather long engagements without a clear end in sight. How do you
project the five‐year outlook for NATO based on their experiences?
JONES: It’s going to be interesting. One of my favorite sayings is ‘a vision
without resources is a hallucination.’ NATO has wonderful intentions. In the Prague
summit of 2002, all of the NATO members signed up to minimum 2% of GDP for
national security. I don’t know how many nations meet that threshold.
BLOOMFIELD: Secretary Gates had a few words on that last week.
JONES: Yeah, and from the Prague summit came the vision of the NATO
Response Force. And everybody was for the NATO Response Force until you … I, as
NATO Commander, proposed using it in a humanitarian operation in Pakistan, and
so we pulled off the operation and then the countries that were on watch wanted to
be refunded for their expenses, because they hadn’t budgeted for these things. Well,
there’s another expression in NATO: “Costs fall where they lie.” Which means that if
you’re on the dot, and you execute, you bite the bullet, and you absorb the [cost]. It
caused chaos in the Alliance.
The aspirations of the alliance are still very honorable and very good, but the
realism that backs up those aspirations doesn’t really stand the test. I think it’s going
to be a critical thing the Alliance is going to have to deal with. The first thing is, you
have to do what you say you’re going to do. If you all agreed to it, 2% doesn’t mean
1.5, doesn’t mean 1.6, it means 2%. And, if they get serious about it, and they …
There’s a difference between how much value we ascribe to the security part
of the operation and the Europeans do. We’ve always taken the lead, we’ve always
been the one to over—not over commit, but certainly take on the majority of the
expense. If you need ammunition, go get it from the Americans. I remember a
hilarious story during the Iraq war of some French … the French air force was
running out of bombs, and their ship was on the way with bombs. So they went to
see the American air force, and they plotted for three days as to how they were
going to ask for two‐hundred, three‐hundred bombs. So the day came when he went
up the American general and said, “Could we borrow three‐hundred bombs?” And
the general said, “How many do you need?” And he said “three‐hundred.” “Give him
three‐thousand.” And they walked away and said, “Wow, that’s unbelievable.”
So we did a lot of this ourselves. If the Allies weren’t quite ready we’d say,
“don’t worry about it, just bring your flag and whatever you can do, it’ll be fine.”
Those days are a little bit different now, until we get our economic house in order.
We’re going to need people to say what they mean, and do what they say more than
we’ve seen in the past.
So on the one hand, I think NATO did a good job in Libya by making a rapid
decision, which is an organization that’s not known for doing that. And you have to
give credit to the UN. They came up with a policy statement—a mandate—that they
asked NATO to do, and all that was done in relatively short order compared to many
other things. So I think there was some good, but also, we need to shore up some of
the realism and become more real about this.
BLOOMFIELD: Well, talking about the Libya intervention on a broader
scale—with the NATO peace, with the UN peace, with the United States policy—
what was striking, at least to me, about the going‐in position, was that there was a
military mission, which was to help prevent the Benghazi massacre, to interdict the
air attacks—take out the air assets—and to support NATO, and that we would pull
back within a short period of time and be in support of the NATO mission.
Whereas the President, who was traveling, if I’m not mistaken, in South
America, made clear that we also have a policy that Qaddafi should go. And he said
we have other ways that we’re interested in promoting that goal.
Fast forward a fair amount of time, it’s still been going on, several other cities
have gone into high combat. Bombing of downtown Tripoli by NATO has been a
recent spectacle. I guess my question is—the big question is—should the military
mission track with the political objective more than this one did? Why don’t I just
leave you with that one? Can you have a military mission when it won’t really end
unless the political goal is met … and so, why don’t you have a military mission that
embraces the political goal—which is a regime change?
JONES: I’m a little bit at a disadvantage because I’m not in government and
so this whole Libya thing came up after I left.
BLOOMFIELD: So you’re free to speak.
JONES: Yeah, I know. No, but I mean in terms of just knowledge.
JONES: As I understand it, the primary goal for American intervention
initially was humanitarian—to save what we believed would be a probable
massacre of innocent people. Unfortunately, once you put your foot in the bathtub,
you can’t just take it out and say “okay, that’s all we’re going to do.”
And then soon after the NATO mission launch … and it’s still going on … I
think everybody understands that the longer Qaddafi holds out, the worse it is, both
for our policy and also NATO. But NATO is carrying out the mandate that it was
given by the United Nations. If you want them to do something different, then
change the mandate. I think that there are … I’m sure there are a lot of other things
going on and other ways to try to end this impasse with Qaddafi. But the longer it
goes on, the worse it is.
BLOOMFIELD: Leaders get bloodier and bloodier. We could talk about Syria,
we could talk about a lot of places. And yet the talk is, “Will he leave?” in the case of
Qaddafi. If a country said, as a matter of policy, “we’d rather end the conflict than be
perfect in terms of the administration of justice against this ruler” … In other words,
if they offered safe haven and lifelong immunity to a leader just to get him out of
there, maybe with his sons, are those tools relevant in the 21 st century or should
everyone in every case face justice no matter what, even if it means they won’t leave
until the bitter end, and the war goes on?
JONES: Ideally, that’s what you’d like. Maybe the world is moving towards a
little bit more of a standard for rulers around the world. I personally believe that
we’re not tough enough on these kinds of leadership—this kind of dictatorship, if
you will—that brutally oppresses people as Assad is doing, and so on and so forth.
I don’t understand why people like that should be seated at the international
table, for example. Personally, I think there should be a standard. I think we’re
moving towards a standard where world bodies will not accept the membership of
people like that, who brutalize their people and have a very repressive regime. It’s
going to be selective and we’re not going to do it.
We finally got General Mladic at the Hague. There’s no question that Qaddafi
does not want to visit Holland, and doesn’t ever want to see Holland, but we’ll just
have to see what the final solution is. But you were asking me a broader question
about leadership—about that kind of leadership. I think there’s more that the
international bodies could do to make it pretty uncomfortable for those leaders in
terms of trade relations, in terms of international travel, in terms of indictments that
would have the effect of restricting travel. But the world is going to have to be more
cohesive before we get there, but I think it might be moving that way.
BLOOMFIELD: Let me give our audience a chance to ask a couple of
questions. Please identify yourself. Sir in the back row.
ATTENDEE (Unidentified): [Speaking off mic.]
BLOOMFIELD: Hold on one second, while Nicole gives you the mic. Thank
ATTENDEE (Unidentified): Sir, I want to ask you a process question, please.
I understand in the military, when you have a doctrine of strategy, but you have
doubts, you have a Team B, or whatever you call it. You have a counter‐team, which
tries to test your hypothesis.
I wonder, where could we place one that would test your hypothesis that the
Marshall Plan can be applied to the Middle East? Some of us feel that such a test
would show that this is not transferrable, that … just to give one very short example,
we can’t create jobs in Los Angeles, in Columbus, Ohio, on a massive scale, I think we
see that around us. Why would we think we could do it in Egypt?
JONES: I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear that.
BLOOMFIELD: If we can’t create jobs in Ohio or Los Angeles, how can we do
it in Egypt? Can we test whether the Marshall Plan is applicable to the Middle East
before we decide that that’s the solution?
JONES: Well, I think the question is one that cuts across the domestic policies
that have resulted in a certain situation that we find ourselves in, that hopefully is
correctable. That’s an internal problem that is very complex but obviously has to be
resolved, and probably the next election is going to hinge on that particular
On the other hand, the United States, I think, wants to continue—and
Americans want the United States to continue—to be a nation of significant
leadership and values and inspiration for the developing part of the world. What I’m
suggesting is that, while we can’t do it alone and we can’t do everything, we can—as
the world’s largest economy—shape and mold and bring into a new way of doing
things, countries that previously, we never would have thought of, like Brazil, like
India, like maybe even China.
It seems to me that there has to be a convergence of the haves and the havenots
if we’re to really triumph over the hopelessness that exists, and to try to move
the world in a positive direction. We can’t do it alone, and we can’t be everywhere,
but in those instances … and I cited Egypt as an example, but there are others,
countries that are developing countries that need that kind of engagement … that
the United States can play a dominant role. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t worry
about jobs in Ohio. I think we should worry about jobs in Ohio, and I think you’re
going to see that being probably the number one issue in this campaign.
BLOOMFIELD: If I may, that rose well above the tactical level answer.
ATTENDEE (Gareth Porter): Thank you. General Jones, thank you for giving
us the opportunity to interact with someone who’s been at the center of the policymaking
process. I’d like to ask you—
BLOOMFIELD: Could you identify yourself, please?
ATTENDEE (Gareth Porter): Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service.
BLOOMFIELD: Thank you.
ATTENDEE (Gareth Porter): You were quoted by Bob Woodward, who
obviously you spent a lot of time talking to, over a period of months, saying that
Afghanistan is a clash of civilizations, among other things, and that the worst
possible thing for the United States would be to allow the militants to win in
Afghanistan, because then militants all over the Middle East and beyond would
believe that they could defeat the United States, with terrible consequences. Now,
obviously this is the official position of the US military, it’s been articulated over the
But I would like to ask you whether you agree that there is an alternative
view of this question of the relationship between US military presence in
Afghanistan and the impact that the outcome would have on Islamic populations
across the Middle East (that alternative being that, in fact, what is far more
important than how effective the US military is in a particular conflict, is whether
the United States is occupying Islamic lands)? So I’d like to ask if you agree that
there is that alternative view, was that thoroughly discussed in the policy‐making
process in the Obama Administration before those critical decisions were made?
JONES: The one thing that I think we did do well is—and we touched on this
earlier in our conversation—the need to engage, as much as you can in different
parts of the world, but on a regional aspect of things.
When we started out in Afghanistan, it seems to me that we dealt with
Afghanistan as Afghanistan, and Pakistan as Pakistan, and India as India. But we
tried to basically take a strategic approach, and it’s turned out to be essentially
correct, unfortunately, that you can’t really have a discussion about Afghanistan
without talking about Pakistan.
And frankly, of the two, the most worrisome one, to me, right now would be
Pakistan. Afghanistan is, in my view, on the path of by 2014 of becoming whatever it
can become between now and then. And it’s going to have to be, probably good
enough, because not just the United States but the international community has
basically said, in some way, that we can’t want for the Afghans that which they don’t
want for themselves. We can’t want it worse than they do.
So, between now and 2014, we’ve made some serious progress in the overall
security environment in the country, particularly in the real troubled areas of the
East and the South, we’ve tried to do our best with regard to catapulting economic
programs, we’ve discovered potential vast resources in terms of copper and other
minerals that exist in Afghanistan that could be very, very helpful for the
development of the Afghan economy. And we have pressed the government of
President Karzai on governance, the rule of law, corruption, ad nauseam.
At the end of the day—and the end of the day is somewhere around 2014
where we will have a major pivot to a new relationship where the Afghans are going
to have to step up and as President Karzai said at the London conference over a year
ago, “I want to run my entire country by 2014.” And the world community at the
NATO Summit in Portugal in December said “we agree.” So that’s where we’re
headed, and so we’ll just have to see where it goes. But to your question I think, yes,
I think there is, at the end of the day only so much you can do to give people—
particularly the Afghans—a shot at a better existence. I think between now and then
they’re going to have to decide for themselves how badly they want it.
BLOOMFIELD: Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’ve abused our guest’s time a
little bit, and have run over, which I apologize for that. Please join me in thanking
General Jones for a great discussion today.
JONES: Thank you.
BLOOMFIELD: Terrific. Thank you very much.
JONES: Thank you.