Ret. Gen. James L. Jones on Obama’s VP short list

By Carol Eisenberg

June 11, 2008 at 8:50am

One name on Barack Obama’s short list of vice-presidential candidates that is generating lots of buzz is that of Ret. Gen. James L. Jones.

The resume of the retired marine and NATO commander is being floated by Obama’s vetters Eric Holder and James Lawrence in consultations with Democratic leaders, according to MSNBC’s First Read.

“The conversations are free-flowing, but one name the vetters are inserting in the conversations is one that is not a household name… Ret. Gen. James Jones, the former Marine-turned-NATO Supreme Allied Commander,” wrote MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and Domenico Montanaro.

The 64-year-old is a Vietnam veteran from Kansas City, Mo. - conveniently, a swing state - who had been appointed to prestigious posts by both Democrats and Republicans.

Most importantly he would boost the foreign-policy expertise and military gravitas of the Democratic ticket to counterbalance the creds of presumptive GOP nominee John McCain - but with a different spin since he has been publicly critical of the conduct of the war in Iraq.

Jones, who is a longtime friend of McCain’s, was quoted in Bob Woodward’s 2006 book, “State of Denial,” telling then-Marine Gen. Peter Pace that the war in Iraq was a “debacle.” He warned Pace, who was about to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had “systematically emasculated the Joint Chiefs, and “you should not be the parrot on the secretary’s shoulder.”

When asked about the remarks in Washington later that year, Jones did not back down, characterizing both Pace and Woodward as old friends.

“I don’t challenge Bob’s characterization of it, except that had I seen [the book], I probably would have suggested that the tone was more critical than I intended it to be,” he told the Washington Post. “I don’t think that Iraq is a debacle. Iraq is a big problem.”

In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in the summer of 2002, Jones also made a prediction that proved prescient. He warned in the Washington Times that defeating Iraq’s army would be more difficult than removing the Taliban. “It would be foolish, if you were ever committed to going into Iraq, to think that the principles that were successful in Afghanistan would necessarily be successful in Iraq,” he was quoted. “In my opinion, they would not.”

Instead, he suggested, a large force would be necessary to invade Iraq successfully.

Jones, who received a plethora of honors for his years of service in Vietnam, Okinawa, Washington D.C., Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Belgium, culminated his career as commander of the United States European Command from 2003 to 2006.

But his record also suggests drawbacks. For one thing, he is scarcely known outside of foreign-policy circles, and has no political experience - which could prove dangerous in a national campaign.

For another, as a longtime McCain friend, it is not clear he would join the Democratic team. The two men are said to have known one another since Jones served as the Marine Corps liaison officer to the U.S. Senate, while McCain had the same job for the Navy, according to the Washington Post. McCain described Jones in a 2007 interview with the New York Times as a close friend, and said he would want Jones to play a key role in his own administration.

And Jones’s son, James Jones III, is the president and CEO of Dynology Corp., an internet firm that was a vendor to McCain’s campaign. McCain’s campaign paid Dynology more than $230,000 between March and October 2007.

The elder Jones has cultivated relationships on both sides of the political aisle.

He was asked twice by Condoleezza Rice to be deputy secretary of state, but declined, according to the Wall Street Journal. He did, however, accept an assignment as special State Department envoy for Middle East Security.

In 2007, he was appointed head of an independent commission to assess the readiness of Iraqi security forces for the Democratic-controlled Congress. The group criticized the Iraqi Interior Ministry and police force, and concluded it would be at least 12 to 18 months before Iraq’s army and police could take charge of the country’s security - problems that may bedevil efforts by a Democratic Administration to withdraw American troops.

Jones is currently the president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce charged with helping to develop a national energy strategy that addresses the country’s security and economic needs. He is also chairman of the Atlantic Council of the United States, a non-profit organization that promotes U.S. leadership in international affairs.

Jones serves on several corporate boards, including those of Invacare, a manufacturer and distributor of medical equipment (whose slogan, ironically, is “yes, you can”), Boeing and Chevron.

Besides Jones, other names on the VP list shared with Congressional Democrats include retired Gen. Wesley Clark, Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, James Webb, Bill Nelson, Jack Reed, Joseph Biden, Christopher Dodd, and Tom Daschle, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and former Sen. Sam Nunn.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Obama’s first supporter in the Senate said his 40-minute meeting with Johnson and Holder included “many, many names.”

“Some of them would surprise you, some of them wouldn’t,” Durbin told reporters.

One of those said to be in the mix - Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland - removed his name from consideration yesterday, telling NPR that “If drafted, I will not run, if nominated, I will not accept and if elected, I will not serve. So, I don’t know how more crystal clear I can be.”

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