Security Adviser Pick Stresses Oil Independence President-elect Barack Obama nominated Gen. James Jones to be his national security adviser. Best known as a former Marine commandant and supreme allied commander in Europe, Jones is part of a group of military and business leaders trying to raise the profile of energy dependence as a national security threat.
NPR logo

Security Adviser Pick Stresses Oil Independence

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/97912062/97912047" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Security Adviser Pick Stresses Oil Independence

Security Adviser Pick Stresses Oil Independence

Security Adviser Pick Stresses Oil Independence

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/97912062/97912047" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

President-elect Barack Obama nominated Gen. James Jones to be his national security adviser. Best known as a former Marine commandant and supreme allied commander in Europe, Jones is part of a group of military and business leaders trying to raise the profile of energy dependence as a national security threat.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

It's All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook. President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet is taking shape. The latest name, Eric Shinseki. He'll be Obama's choice for secretary of veterans' affairs. Before the Iraq war, Shinseki raised heckles in the Bush administration by saying hundreds of thousands of American troops would have to stay in post-war Iraq.

Another of Obama's top aides is a military stalwart, and he sees energy policy as one of the keys to national security. NPR's Scott Horsley has that story.

SCOTT HORSLEY: When President-elect Barack Obama named James Jones to be his national security adviser this past week, he naturally talked about the retired marine general's battlefield experience and his record as supreme allied commander in Europe. He also singled out Jones' effort in another arena, working to reduce America's thirst for oil, much of which now comes from unstable or downright hostile parts of the globe.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Jim is focused on the threats of today and the future. He understands the connection between energy and national security.

HORSLEY: When Jones retired from the Marine Corps after 40 years in uniform, he helped start an energy institute to promote new supplies and greater efficiency. Like a lot of Americans, he was rudely awakened to America's vulnerability during the Arab oil embargo 35 years ago.

General JAMES JONES (Nominee for National Security Adviser): I remember in 1973 sitting in a Volkswagen Beetle. I was a captain in the Marine Corps trying to sit - I sat in a gas line in Springfield, Virginia trying to get enough gas at four o'clock in the morning to get to Quantico, Virginia so I get to class on time.

HORSLEY: At the time, Richard Nixon promised to wean the country off foreign oil. Every president since has done the same, even as imports have continued to grow. Jones says the nation hasn't made the kind of sustained effort needed to break its addiction to imported oil.

General JONES: We have to approach this with the same degree of seriousness that we did when President Eisenhower said, let's build us a highway system, or President Kennedy said, let's go to the moon.

HORSLEY: Jones made those remarks last summer in Missouri in an appearance with Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. And some of his energy prescriptions sound more like McCain's than President-elect Obama's. Jones's institute, for example, called for expanded offshore oil drilling and a much greater emphasis on nuclear power. At the same time, the institute also stresses efficiency and environmental stewardship. Kateri Callahan, who heads the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, likes Jones' balanced approach.

Ms. KATERI CALLAHAN (President, Alliance to Save Energy): I'll put it very simply. We need to do it all. Mine as much as we can, if you will, out of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, but we also, at least for some period of time, continue to rely on carbon-based sources of energy and on nuclear power.

HORSLEY: Jones isn't the only high-ranking military man concerned about America's dependence on imported oil. Robbie Diamond runs a Washington group called Securing America's Future Energy, and many of his members are retired admirals or generals.

Mr. ROBBIE DIAMOND (Founder and President, Securing America's Future Energy): Our military is being strained more and more because of our dependence on oil. And at the same time, they're dealing more and more with bad actors in the world causing trouble because of their wealth from oil.

HORSLEY: Military planners are paid to think about those challenges, but Callahan says the rest of us tend to agitate about energy when gasoline prices are high but forget about the issue when they're not.

Ms. CALLAHAN: We vacillate in this country wildly between crisis and complacency when it comes to energy.

HORSLEY: Energy was a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign last summer, when gas prices topped four dollars a gallon. Now that prices are back down below two dollars a gallon, Callahan is counting on Jones and other top Obama aides, like Bill Richardson and Homeland Security's Janet Napolitano, to keep energy on the administration's front burner.

Ms. CALLAHAN: I don't think that it's just happenstance that Barack Obama has handpicked these people to be in his cabinet that have this kind of understanding of energy. I think it was very much something that he did with foresight and because he wants to make this a centerpiece of his administration.

HORSLEY: Callahan thinks it will be easier to maintain that focus on energy when it's seen as not just an economic necessity, but a national security asset, as well. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Next Security Chief Offers Military, Diplomatic Skills

President-elect Barack Obama has named Sen. Hillary Clinton and retired Marine Gen. James Jones to serve as his secretary of state and national security adviser, respectively. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Barack Obama has named Sen. Hillary Clinton and retired Marine Gen. James Jones to serve as his secretary of state and national security adviser, respectively.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Retired Marine Gen. James Jones, the man nominated as the next national security adviser, brings to the assignment both the polished skills of a diplomat and the hard-edged experience of a warrior, say those who know him.

Jones was raised in Paris through high school and came to the United States to attend Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. He still speaks fluent French.

His battlefield experience began in Vietnam. On the night of May 27, 1968, then-Lt. Jones led Fox Company outside the mountain redoubt of Khe Sanh. Suddenly, his position was overrun by a large force of North Vietnamese troops. Jones exposed himself to withering enemy fire, grenades and rockets as he dashed around to adjust his defensive lines, his Silver Star medal citation says.

Trouble On Multiple Fronts

Now, 40 years later, Jones faces the foreign policy equivalent of Khe Sanh. His country's defenses are being overwhelmed everywhere he looks: Iraq. Afghanistan. Pakistan and India. A nuclear North Korea, an emboldened Russia.

"We certainly don't have any shortage of problems," says Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst with the Brookings Institution, who points to Afghanistan as one of the most troublesome issues.

"We're basically losing the war right now," O'Hanlon says. "Certainly, Jones is going to have to do a lot because it's important" to Obama.

Jones told NPR earlier this year that the international community has to do more in Afghanistan, both in financial support and in troop presence. He also said the government of President Hamid Karzai has to step up.

"That government has got to do more than simply live in the palace in Kabul," Jones said. Its representatives have "got to get out there and be seen and felt and, you know, stimulate the enthusiasm of the people."

Military And Diplomatic Experience

Jones follows two other generals who held the job as national security adviser: Colin Powell under President Reagan and Brent Scowcroft under President Ford and the first President Bush.

Jones' broad experience surpasses theirs at the time they took that White House job. After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Jones served on the relief mission in northern Iraq; his son has served two tours during the current conflict.

The elder Jones went on to serve in the Balkans before becoming the Marine Corps' top officer. He later commanded all NATO forces, a role that gave him a hand in Afghanistan policy. More recently, Jones has been a special Middle East envoy, working on security issues with the Israelis and Palestinians.

"I've seen him grow over the years, and he has great diplomatic skills. And he's a great people person, and he really knows how to calm a situation and look at something analytically," says William Cohen, who served as defense secretary under President Clinton and brought in Jones as his military aide.

The two had known each other since the 1970s, when Jones served as a Marine liaison on Capitol Hill and Cohen was a senator from Maine.

Jones "brings considerable military experience, and I would say his diplomatic skills are quite extraordinary," Cohen says.

"He tends to be the kind of person who commands a lot of respect and is widely admired," says O'Hanlon. "He's almost too good to be true, like he's out of central casting."

An imposing figure, at 6 feet, 4 inches tall, Jones is "almost like a John Wayne figure," O'Hanlon adds.

Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who has known Jones for three decades, recalls that Jones' interest in international relations began at Georgetown.

Zinni calls Jones a "quick learner" who knows Washington well; he has the leadership skills to keep "the team working together."

Jones is considered a pragmatist who has worked well with both Democrats and Republicans over the years. He also advised John McCain during the presidential race.

From Commander To Staffer

While Jones has held top command positions, now he will be one of Washington's most important staffers. It's more than just running the bureaucracy, O'Hanlon says: It's also about coming up with "big ideas" — strategies the country needs.

A good national security adviser has to be creative, O'Hanlon says. He points to Scowcroft, who under the first President Bush worked to reunify Germany and cut U.S. nuclear forces in Europe.

Whether Jones "can also be the grand strategist is another question," says O'Hanlon. "And there are times when that has been a necessary part of the national security adviser portfolio."

The job can be a tough one, balancing competing interests and egos. O'Hanlon points to Condoleezza Rice, who held the job in the current Bush administration before becoming secretary of state. She was criticized for being ineffective, failing to resolve policy differences between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Powell.

Speaking in Chicago Monday, Jones said he was deeply humbled to take the national security job during what he called "challenging times."