Interview with National Security Adviser James Jones

Interview with National Security Adviser James Jones

By The Situation Room - August 11, 2010

BLITZER: And joining us now President Obama's National Security adviser General James Jones, retired U.S. Marine Corps commandant.

Thanks very much for coming in, General.

GEN. JAMES JONES (RET.), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thank you, Wolf. It's a pleasure to be here.

BLITZER: You just have come to our SITUATION ROOM from your situation room, we have a picture of you up there on the screen. You're sitting right next to the president. The subject today, I guess, was Iraq.

Are you ready to declare mission accomplished?

JONES: Well, the subject was Iraq, but before we get to that, I brought you a coin from the other situation.

BLITZER: The White House situation room?

JONES: The White House situation room. And --

BLITZER: Thank you.

JONES: On behalf of us at that situation room, we want to wish you a happy anniversary on you r fifth year of your SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: Thank you so much. Hopefully one of these days we'll come to your situation room, and I'll bring you a coin from my situation room, and we'll do -- do a little interview from there.

JONES: That's a deal.

BLITZER: Thank you. All right. Let's talk about what just happened in this meeting. And we got the picture that's already up there.

JONES: Sure. BLITZER: Is it over with? Is mission accomplished in Iraq?

JONES: Well, we had a full meeting of the National Security Council, as you'd see on the picture, chaired by the president and the vice president. And the purpose of the meeting was to have a comprehensive review where we were with regard to the political situation in Iraq, the formation of the government, the security situation.

And then third part of the meeting was about the transition that's going on and, you know, generally speaking, I think things are going well. And I'd be happy to go into some detail.

BLITZER: Well, let's go into some specifics because there is no new government yet, and there doesn't seem to be any sign that it's about to happen. It's been, what, five, almost six months without a new government?

JONES: Well, it's -- there is a caretaker government. I mean there is a government that's functioning. Violence is down. This is -- month of July would have qualified as the third least violent month in -- in Iraq since January of 2004. And the government is functioning.

BLITZER: When is there going to be a new government?

JONES: Well, we -- the report this morning from people who work this every single day, and the vice president, by the way, who is spending an enormous amount of time at the president's direction, talking to the principals.

Even this morning, he was on the telephone talking to them.

BLITZER: To Nouri al-Maliki, Ayad Allawi.


BLITZER: All of the various candidates?

JONES: Correct. Yes, all -- all of the three principal parties. And we think that they're making good progress, and within the not- too-distant future, they'll come to commendation but --

BLITZER: Good progress and not-too-distant future. Ambiguous. What is not-too-distant future means?

JONES: I'd say maybe a few weeks, a month.

BLITZER: Can U.S. troops -- all combat troops be out of Iraq by the end of this month even if there's no new government?

JONES: Combat operations will cease officially on the 31st of this month, and we will be down --

BLITZER: Whether or not there is a new government.

JONES: Correct. But there is a government.

BLITZER: But a new government?

JONES: No. Whether or not there is --

BLITZER: Whether or not there is a --

JONES: Correct.

BLITZER: Now what about --

JONES: And we'll be down -- we'll be down to 50,000, and they will be adopting a training and advising mission. And General Odierno, this morning, reported to the commander in chief that he feels that the Iraqi Security Forces which are now quite capable can -- or up to the task of handling things themselves, which is very, very good news.

BLITZER: Because as you know all U.S. troops are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of next year, the end 2011, and that why I was disturbed today when I read this quote from the Iraqi army chief of staff Babakar Zebari who said this, "If I were asked about the withdrawal I would say to politicians, the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020." Nine more years after 2011. What is he talking about?

JONES: Well, I would imagine that he is talking about advisory roles and training and the type of relations that we have with many countries around the world that seek to improve their security forces, their armies, navies, and air forces, and in a normal relationship with a new Iraq and new government, we intend to have that relationship.

BLITZER: So military to military relationship, but no significant troop presence after the end of next year?

JONES: That is correct.

BLITZER: Even though he says that the Iraqi army won't be prepared to take really full charge until 20?

JONES: Well, there's the Iraqi army development, and the Iraqi police development to maintain the stability inside of the country, but, General Odierno, and his counterpart is confident that they are on the right slope to do that. We are meeting our milestones and benchmarks and so far so good.

BLITZER: So the fear of Iraq breaking up into a Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish, separate provinces and separate countries, you are not worried about that anymore?

JONES: Not at the present and as the president said politics is breaking out, and they are settling the differences and coming to compromised positions in a reasonable way. And that the violence is very low.

BLITZER: Mission accomplished?

JONES: Mission on the way to being accomplished and the trend lines are good.


BLITZER: Much more of the interview coming up with General Jones. He met with the president today in the white house situation room, and you will hear what General Jones has to say ability one of the most controversial issues facing the U.S. military right now, and we are talking about gays serving openly in the military, and that is coming up next.


BLITZER: More now of my exclusive interview with retired Marine Corps General James Jones. He's President Obama's national security adviser right now. Among other topics that we covered, gays serving openly in the United States military and the ongoing middle east peace effort.


BLITZER: Israeli, Palestinian, and direct peace talks, happening any time soon?

JONES: Possibility. Possibility in the near future.

BLITZER: Face to face between the Israelis and not the proximity talks, but direct talks. Is Mahmoud Abbas the president of the Palestinian authority ready to do it with Netanyahu, the prime minister?

JONES: Well, I won't speak for them, but I will tell you that we are engaged with both sides, and we've engaged with the Arab league and the Europeans and there is a growing sense that this is something that has to happen, and we have to find a solution, because it is not just a regional problem, but it is a regional problem, but it is also a global problem, and finding a, being able to have two nations living side by side in peace and security is something that would be good for the entire world.

BLITZER: You are encouraging the Palestinians and the Israelis to meet.

JONES: We are encouraging, but they have to find the modalities back to the table, but I'm encouraged with the efforts that Senator Mitchell is making, that vice president, the president, secretary of state -- we are all involved in this at various levels in the government.

BLITZER: It is a good idea that some in the house are suggesting for the U.S. to freeze $100 million in military aid to the Lebanese army because of what happened along the border between the Lebanese and Iran? JONES: Well, we need time to think about that. This was -- this was an unfortunate situation resulting in loss of life on both sides. What impressed me is the degree to which both sides were willing to be reasonable in the aftermath and the steps that were put in to make sure that this does not happen again. But, I -- I think that we will have to see exactly where we stand on the question of arms for the Lebanese army. We have a high interest in the Lebanese army that is stable and conducts itself appropriately, and we have had some good success with them so far.

BLITZER: And another sensitive issue, and this is the last question on gays serving openly in the United States military. You served in the Marine Corps your whole career and you wound up as commandant of the Marine Corps and why is there so much resistance specifically in the Marine Corps to gays serving openly in the marines?

JONES: Well, you know, I've come to the conclusion that we should, that the president did exactly the right thing in asking Secretary Gates to conduct a study that all of the services are participating in. This will -- in this length of time that we are taking to study this issue will have, I think, a calming effect on the emotional aspect here. The standard for service in the armed forces of the United States ought to be based on good order and discipline. And we found ways to modify eligibility to serve in the armed forces for other groups, you know, whether it is based on race or religion or whatever. We have, we can find a right path here. I think that giving a time to have the services have their discussions, have their education and get back to the president, and report on exactly what, you know, how they feel about this and how they would implement the change if they were ordered to do so it is going to be a good thing and I think that we should wait for the outcome of the study, and then see where we go from there.

BLITZER: When is that going to happen?

JONES: I think it is due by the end of the year.

BLITZER: And you personally are comfortable with marines, gay marines serving openly?

JONES: I think that again, the standard should be the, that people in uniform should adhere to the code of conduct, and contribute to the good order and discipline of the armed forces by the daily behavior and that should apply to, to all people regardless of their sexual orientation.

BLITZER: So you are comfortable with this change?

JONES: I think that we are getting to that part in our society where it is something that we should find our way to accommodate.

BLITZER: Because a lot of the NATO allies do it, and you think that the U.S. Should do it, too?

JONES: Exactly. I am looking to see the results of the study and join the debate and give it some thoughtful and open-minded consideration, but, and I think that this is the right vehicle.


The Big Questions in Iraq
David Ignatius · November 12, 2014

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