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Commentary: Global rainmaker

Gen. James L. Jones.
by Arnaud De Borchgrave
Washington (UPI) Dec 8, 2008
Introducing national security adviser-designee 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.

The 6-foot-4-inch John Wayne-like figure has held a succession of high-level command assignments during the last decade of a 40-year career in the Marine Corps. From personal assistant to Defense Secretary Bill Cohen as a three-star in the second Clinton administration, Jones went on to become the 32nd Marine Corps commandant and then NATO supreme commander (SACEUR), where diplomatic skills trumped combat skills as he oversaw the alliance's post-Cold War growth to 26 nations. Jones' perfect, accentless French, acquired between ages 2 and 14 while living in Paris, where his father represented International Harvester, played a major role in persuading France to rejoin the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after a 40-year Gaullist sulk. As a young officer in Vietnam, Jones saw plenty of action (Silver Star, Bronze Star with combat "V"). As SACEUR, Jones also did double duty as EUCOM commander of all U.S. forces in Europe.

NATO allies were committed to backing the U.S. militarily in Afghanistan, but at the same time they were under great pressure at home to cut back on their militaries in the post-Cold War glow. This kept Jones commuting to two dozen European capitals, always displaying his diplomatic skills at the highest level.

Now 64, Jones comes to the White House as the third general in recent times to serve as national security adviser (Brent Scowcroft under Gerald Ford and Bush 41, and Colin Powell under Ronald Reagan). He also comes aboard the Obama ship of state with a striking example of his geopolitical skills since he retired from the Marine Corps two years ago.

As special envoy for Middle East security, appointed by Secretary Rice, Jones assessed what security would look like after the establishment of a Palestinian state. Could a Palestinian state be viable and survive in the shadow of the all-powerful state of Israel? This was the question Jones set out to answer. While Jones tackled security, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair assessed economic viability. He had a small team of 10 volunteers and listened for three months -- in the Israeli-occupied territories, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. He also worked with the Israel Defense Forces, with the same Israeli colonel he met at the NATO-Mediterranean dialogue.

Jones ran into many other players engaged in similar efforts -- the European Union, the U.S. Agency for International Development and non-government organizations, all operating in their own orbits, with neither cohesion nor symmetry. So he invited all of them to a lively dinner discussion in Jerusalem. Jones got them all to coordinate their efforts from the bottom up to meet what he was doing from the top down.

Jones picked Jenin, onetime West Bank hub for suicide bombers and Palestinian underground operations, parts of which were leveled by Israeli tanks. Jones saw this city of 50,000 sitting on a three-legged stool -- the Palestinians' sense of dignity, Israeli control and access for Israelis. But this was not the Palestinian idea of sovereignty. Jones faced two immovable objects -- Israeli control and Palestinian sovereignty. Real change came when Palestinian security battalions, trained in Jordan, came home to be deployed with the assignment "to protect the rule of law." Both Israelis and Palestinians bought into the concept as their own idea. And well-disciplined Palestinian forces went after criminals and terrorists. The IDF, meanwhile, has withdrawn from its bases and established electronic liaison with the new Palestinian security personnel.

Jones also massaged a change in the Israeli ethos -- from counter-terrorist to counterinsurgency. The IDF now says if the Palestinians do more, "we will do less." Rice visited Jenin last month to see for herself the newly transformed city, where she inaugurated a new hospital wing renovated with U.S. funds and announced $14 million for infrastructure improvements and educational projects for the area.

Rice was a tad too optimistic when she said Jenin is "a place from where the Palestinian state will spring up," and which Jones described as "a dress rehearsal for statehood, a crucible where the two sides can prove things to each other." Last weekend's front-page pictures of Israeli soldiers dragging screaming Jewish female settlers from a Palestinian building in Hebron, and the subsequent trashing of Palestinian houses and olive trees, were a sober reminder of scores of illegal settlements all over the West Bank.

The Saudis have relaunched King Abdullah's 2002 plan for peace, i.e., the recognition of Israel by all Arab states in exchange for Israel's withdrawal to its pre-1967 war frontiers with a few minor territorial adjustments in Israel's favor in return for comparable land in the Negev for Palestinians. If President Obama were to throw his weight behind such a deal, it just might have a chance. But it would take several years to negotiate, and 240,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank are not about to start packing.

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