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Upon U.S. Troop Pullback, Jones Assesses Iraq’s Future

June 30, 2009 at 6:15 PM EDT
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U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraqi cities prompted a national holiday, but continued violence leaves the country's stability in question. National Security Adviser retired Gen. Jim Jones discusses the path ahead in Iraq.
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JIM LEHRER: And still to come on the NewsHour tonight: Margaret Warner in Moscow; and Al Franken wins a big one.

That follows our interview with National Security Adviser,
retired U.S.
Marine General James Jones. I spoke to him earlier this evening.

General Jones, welcome.

GEN. JAMES JONES, National Security Adviser: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: On and about Iraq, how important is this day
today?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think it’s very important. It’s a great
day for the citizens of Iraq.
It’s a testimony to, I think, our strategy and the implementation of our
strategy, a lot of work over a number of years. So I think everybody should
feel excited about this moment.

JIM LEHRER: But the big thing is, the Americans are leaving,
the Americans are leaving, but 130,000 Americans are still going to be there.

GEN. JAMES JONES: Correct.

JIM LEHRER: U.S.
troops are still going to be there. So what are they going to do?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I think the combat forces will be
around the cities and will be conducting the kind of the outer defense of the
perimeter, if you will. They will be there, of course, if the Iraqi forces need
them. They’ll be of help.

But symbolically and actually, we will be transferring the
bulk of the responsibility for the security inside the cities and towns of the
entire country to the host government.

JIM LEHRER: So none of those American troops, none of those
130,000 American troops can operate independently of the Iraqi government from
this day on?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Correct.

JIM LEHRER: They only go unless they’re shot at or
something?

GEN. JAMES JONES: That’s right. They will stay outside the
cities. And if needed, we will provide trainers, we’ll provide advisers, we
will provide counsel. And if they need reinforcements, we’ll coordinate to do
that.

JIM LEHRER: But the Iraqi government defines
“need” in every case, is that correct?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Correct. That’s correct. That’s in
keeping, Jim, with the status-of-forces agreement that the Iraqis themselves
insisted on, which we think is really an admirable and, as we will see, a very
courageous thing to do.

JIM LEHRER: And yet the war goes on. Four more Americans
were killed today; 25 Iraqis were killed today. So, people are still dying.

GEN. JAMES JONES: That’s correct.

JIM LEHRER: And that’s going to continue?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think it would be natural to expect that
forces who are not thrilled with what’s happening in Iraq will try to move in to
whatever vacuum they perceive. They will test, obviously, the Iraqis to see how
good they are and see if they’ll fight. That’s a natural phenomenon of warfare.
And so we’re going to go through a testing period again.

The driving force of withdrawal

Gen. James Jones (Ret.)
National Security Adviser
This has not been driven by any kind of timesheet, but really by what are the capabilities of the forces and what can they do. We programmed it out to say we think they'll be at a certain level of competence by this date. We're reaching this date.

JIM LEHRER: General, is it correct to say that this wholewithdrawal timetable that goes all the way now, what, to 2011, right...

GEN. JAMES JONES: Correct.

JIM LEHRER: ... when all U.S. troops will be out, is drivenby a campaign promise by then-candidate Senator Barack Obama or by the realityof what's been happening on the ground?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think it's been driven by the reality ofwhat's happening on the ground, the assessment of the capabilities that we madeand the Iraqis made of themselves and their capabilities.

We've been working very hard on this. We've done studies ofthe capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, both the police and the army,which now numbers over 230,000, I think.

And so this has not been driven by any kind of timesheet,but really by what are the capabilities of the forces and what can they do. Andwe programmed it out to say we think they'll be at a certain level ofcompetence by this date. We're reaching this date. Everybody agrees thatthey're there, and we do risk assessments.

But to their credit, the Iraqis insisted that and PresidentMaliki insisted that they're ready. And we're executing. And I think that'sencouraging.

JIM LEHRER: Looking back, the New York Times' lead editorialtoday said today that this was an unnecessary war. Is that how you feel aboutit?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I think that's going to be debatedfor a long time. I don't think anybody is really thrilled necessarily with howwe got into it, in terms of what we expected to find, the whole issue ofweapons of mass destruction.

But as we go through this, we have contributed our treasure,our sons and daughters to the liberation of an entire country verystrategically placed in the Middle East. Andit's on its way to having a good ending, which we hope will result in a freersociety and peace. And we'll contribute to peace in the Middle East, which is important.

But I think, for all of the pain that we went through at thebeginning and the debates that we've had nationally, this is on its way to asgood an ending as I could have forecast.

JIM LEHRER: So in the final analysis, was it worth the costin American lives and resources to get what was accomplished in Iraq?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think this will be a question forhistorians to decide as they look back and consider the entire effort. From mystandpoint, I was on active duty in uniform and supporting the policies of ourgovernment. And, you know, I think that the debate will continue for a while.

At the end of the day, though, I hope that the sacrificethat was made will be appreciated by the people of the region, the Iraqi peoplein particular, and will contribute to the quest for peace in the Middle East, which is extremely important from an overallstrategic standpoint, and we're still working on it today.

New strategy in Afghanistan

Gen. James Jones (Ret.)
National Security Adviser
The central focus of this strategy is to grow the Afghan army at a faster rate, grow the Afghan police capability at a faster rate, and give the people of Afghanistan...a better way of life, and a more secure way of life.

JIM LEHRER: Now, of course, the debate has now moved, alongwith Iraq continuing, butmoved in a major way toward Afghanistan.And, of course, you were head of NATO when a lot of decisions were made aboutsending U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Howdo you feel about the new policy that the Obama administration has put in andyou have been part of? Is it working so far? Are there any signs that the newstrategy is making any difference?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, Jim, I just returned back from avisit to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. And this was my first visitback over there since the new strategy came out.

One thing I feel good about is that the strategy now is wellaccepted. It's accepted here at home, and it's accepted by our allies. It'saccepted by the Afghanis and the Pakistanis. And that was a good effort to be apart of.

My visit this past week was to go out there and see how,since the strategy was announced, how we're doing. And we're creating a way inwhich we can measure our progress. We all know that our military does very welland our allies do very well, so security is not the pillar that we're worriedabout.

What we're really worried about is economic development andreconstruction and also governance and rule of law. We believe that it's clearthat, over the years, that we've won all of our military battles, we've managedto restore order to large parts of the country, although we've slipped in thesouth in the last couple of years.

But in the main, we do well militarily. It's the other twopieces that have been lacking in cohesion and coordination.

And the central focus of this strategy is to grow the Afghanarmy at a faster rate, grow the Afghan police capability at a faster rate, andgive the people of Afghanistan more evidence that economic recovery, and abetter way of life, and a more secure way of life, and better government at thelocal, at the regional, and at the national level is possible.

And working with all of our allies and working with thegovernment of Afghanistanand now Pakistan,I think we have the chance of turning the corner on this. But it's still tooearly to tell.

JIM LEHRER: Just a chance? That's all we have?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think we have a good chance, if it'sdone right. Jim, all of the elements for success are there; all the pieces areon the table. It's a question of putting three or four of the big pieces of thepuzzle together so they work and then the puzzle becomes easier. I think we'llknow -- I think we'll know within a calendar year whether our strategy ismoving forward successfully.

JIM LEHRER: By what measurement?

GEN. JAMES JONES: By the measurement of security...

JIM LEHRER: Security.

GEN. JAMES JONES: ... which we can measure. By themeasurement of whether we are bringing in, when we establish security, economicprograms and development in a concentrated way, where development is needed,better schools, better electricity where it's needed, better water, economicinvestment, agriculture, better irrigation projects.

We are working with 47 sovereign countries, the U.N., theE.U., NATO, the World Bank, the IMF, and all of the volunteer organizations. There'sno good excuse for not being successful in Afghanistan.

Waiting on Iran

Gen. James Jones (Ret.)
National Security Adviser
I don't think there's anything that we could or should have done to materially affect the events on the ground as they unrolled, as they unfolded....And we'll just have to wait and see how the next government presents itself.

JIM LEHRER: OK, moving to Iran. For all practical purposes,is it over, Ahmadinejad is still the president, the hard-liners won, and allthe stuff, all the commotion in the streets, all the protests, it's all over?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think we still need to wait and see. Itcertainly looks like it's moving in that direction, but you never know.

We have taken, as the president said, a measured look atwhat's going on. We've spoken up to decry violence and loss of life. But Ithink we'll have to wait and see how it sorts out.

JIM LEHRER: But that's it for the U.S., right? There's nothing elsethat can be done or will be done?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I don't think there's anything that wecould or should have done to materially affect the events on the ground as theyunrolled, as they unfolded. I think the world watched. The world is reachingits conclusions. And we'll just have to wait and see how the next governmentpresents itself.

JIM LEHRER: As a matter of policy, the United States still recognizes Ahmadinejad asthe legitimate president of Iranand the U.S.is still willing to consider conversations with him and his government fromthis point on?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I wouldn't go completely that far to saythat those two things necessarily follow in trace. We'll wait and see whathappens a little bit longer. And then we'll have some conclusions based on bothof those questions.

JIM LEHRER: But there would be conclusions just mostly of words,right? I mean, there's no actions or deeds that the U.S. is contemplating, are there?

GEN. JAMES JONES: There's no actions, in terms of militaryaction, if that's what you're referring to.

JIM LEHRER: Right. Right. Yes.

GEN. JAMES JONES: No, I think the people of Iran to a largeextent feel that they've been slighted and wronged. They are doing what theycan to manifest that displeasure.

I think that it's fair to say that the next government, ifit is the president is re-elected and there's no change anywhere else, is goingto have to deal with the consequence of the perceptions that many people have,that the election wasn't fair.

Now, how they recover is their problem. We will draw our ownconclusions based on how this all sorts out, and we will sort out ourrelationships at an appropriate time.

JIM LEHRER: Now, of course, there's Honduras. Thepresident was ousted in a military coups, taken to Costa Rica. Today he says,"I'm coming back on Thursday." He's going to be accompanied byleaders of other Latin American countries. The people in the new governmentsay, "You come back here, we will arrest you." What does the United Statesdo, if anything, about that?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think the United States does exactly what thepresident suggested that we do. We are for democratic processes and democraticchange of government when that time comes.

We do not support violent overthrows of democraticallyelected governments. And if the president wants to return to his country,that's his decision. We still recognize the legitimate president of thecountry.

JIM LEHRER: And we still -- in other words, the U.S. would notdo business with this new military-run government?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Our position right now is, we stillrecognize the legitimacy of the president. And so that's the gentleman we'regoing to be dealing with, unless...

JIM LEHRER: He addressed the U.N. today...

GEN. JAMES JONES: Exactly.

JIM LEHRER: ... and is coming to Washington...

GEN. JAMES JONES: And, by the way, this is not a unilateraldecision. Everybody in the Organization of American States also supports this. Sowe're in good company. We're not alone.

JIM LEHRER: And he's coming to Washington as president, even though nomatter what happens on Thursday, he says he's coming to address the OAS, right?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Correct. Correct.

JIM LEHRER: The U.S. has no problem with that?

GEN. JAMES JONES: No.

JIM LEHRER: Why not?

GEN. JAMES JONES: He's the legitimately elected president ofthe country, and that's who's recognized at the U.N., by the Organization ofAmerican States, and for the moment by us, as well.

Dynamics on the NSC

Gen. James Jones (Ret.)
National Security Adviser
The National Security Council that serves the president is a different animal than perhaps previous National Security Councils....And once he makes a decision, then we turn to the task of making sure that the decisions are properly implemented.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, General, let me ask you this. Going into the Obama administration, the national security team, there was a lot oftalk that there's an awful lot of big egos, special envoys, all kinds ofthings. And there was a question about whether or not it would work. And six monthslater, is it working?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I think so. The National Security Councilthat serves the president is a different animal than perhaps previous NationalSecurity Councils.

It is designed to make sure that the big issues, the ones thatthe president has to decide, are debated, sometimes vigorously debated, by theprincipals and the deputies. And we have a very good process by which weelevate these issues to the president's attention. And once he makes adecision, then we turn to the task of making sure that the decisions areproperly implemented.

JIM LEHRER: You're comfortable with doing the job?

GEN. JAMES JONES: I'm comfortable with doing the job.

JIM LEHRER: Now, there have been all kinds of stories --there were typical Washingtonanonymous-source stories about, "Oh, is Jim Jones really up to this andwhatever? Has it been hard, difficult, and too much?" What's the answer toall that?

GEN. JAMES JONES: Well, I think any time you're makingchanges to a basic -- an organization and you're bringing in new ideas on howthe organization should function, and my approach is perhaps a little bitdifferent than those of my predecessors, I'll leave others to judge whetherit's successful or not.

My goal is to make sure that the president is well served,that the issues are properly debated and teed up, that the right people are atthe table, that everybody gets a chance to say what he or she thinks about theissue, and then when the president makes a decision that we implement it.

Admittedly, I think some -- if you're pleasing everybody,you're not really doing your job. My first tour in working for the U.S.government, they sent me to a country in a faraway place where people tried tokill me for a year. So this is not particularly...

JIM LEHRER: This was when you were a rifle platooncommander.

GEN. JAMES JONES: That's right, in Vietnam.

JIM LEHRER: In Vietnam.

GEN. JAMES JONES: So this is not particularly worrisome.

JIM LEHRER: OK. General, thank you.

GEN. JAMES JONES: Thank you very much, Jim. It's good to seeyou.

JIM LEHRER: Good to see you, sir.

GEN. JAMES JONES: Thank you.