General Jim Jones is an interesting kind of national security adviser. He doesn’t pretend to be an architect of strategic leaps like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, or Henry Kissinger — who had to wrestle with a tense nuclear weapons-edged global Cold War with lots of abounding episodes of heat.
Jones sees himself instead as an architect of a disciplined decision-making framework that has broadened the number of voices and perspectives that fill out policy options offered to President Obama. There are no Cheney-Rumsfeld type cabals in the Obama White House in part because of the way Jones, his deputy Tom Donilon and chief of staff Denis McDonough have structured the sequence and players at the table when national security matters are under review.
History, however, may not let Jones get away with just being a person who behind the scenes revolutionizes national security bureaucracy. He may have to still focus on how to achieve key strategic jumps forward in confronting and neutralizing defining challenges facing the United States.
Tonight, Jones spoke at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy‘s 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner — while somewhat coincidentally US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was speaking at the 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner for the Arab American Institute under the directorship of James Zogby.
Jones’ speech is already being pilloried by some on the liberal side of the Israel-Palestine debate for kowtowing too much to a pro-Israel narrative in his speech — the “unbreakable” bond between the US and Israel, no solutions can be imposed, and you know the rest.
But I disagree. I think it’s important to affirm many of the successes of the American Jewish community and to register their fears — but it’s also important to speak some key truths about Israel’s long term security needs and about the tattered state of US-Israel relations.
I think General Jones did a good job embedding his interesting talk with key themes — pushing simultaneously America’s challenges with Iran as well as the partner challenge in the region of achieving a negotiated Israel-Palestine two state solution. He said that these hurdles were defining challenges for the US. Jones hit hard on the point that the status quo in the paralyzed Israel-Palestine peace process was not acceptable.
In a way, I have been advocating a ‘soft containment’ strategy for Iran. To some degree, this is Jones’ soft containment speech slightly hemming in Israel, or at least helping to nudge the Jewish State toward a more productive course.
From his speech to WINEP tonight, Jones said:
In our pursuit of a two-state solution, we recognize that peace must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside. At the same time, we understand that the status quo is not sustainable. It is not sustainable for Israel’s identity as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state, because the demographic clock keeps ticking and will not be reversed.
The status quo is not sustainable for Palestinians who have legitimate aspirations for sovereignty and statehood. And the status quo is not sustainable for the region because there is a struggle between those who reject Israel’s existence and those who are prepared to coexist with Israel — and the status quo strengthens the rejectionists and weakens those who would live in peace.
Obviously, we are disappointed that the parties have not begun direct negotiations. The United States stands ready to do whatever is necessary to help the parties bridge their differences and develop the confidence needed to make painful compromises on behalf of peace. As we do so, we will also strongly support the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to develop its institutions from the ground up and call on other states, particularly in the region, to do their part to support the Palestinian Authority as well.
We also continue to call on all sides to avoid provocative actions, including Israeli actions in East Jerusalem and Palestinian incitement that fuel suspicion rather than trust.
This is good material for the American-Jewish community to hear. The fuller speech is less compelling than this segment, but to have hard truths be heard, some time they need to be surrounded with a lot of boiler plate that an audience wants to hear.
I can’t write as much on this right now as I would like as I’m in Brazil today preparing for an interesting meeting hosted here by Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on global governance challenges.
But I do think it is important not to write Jim Jones off. He still has the potential to be the kind of national security adviser who helps his President achieve some key strategic leaps — even if that is not exactly the kind of national security adviser that Jim Jones set out to be.
— Steve Clemons