Gen. James Jones is the former United States National Security Advisor and a retired United States Marine Corps General. Previously, he served as Commander, United States European Command (COMUSEUCOM) and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).
The intervention in Libya has widely been considered a success. What made it work?
I think it’s very difficult- people want a blueprint, a template if you will, that you can apply to most incidents; but unfortunately that’s not possible. The correct thing to do is diagnose what are the main elements of whatever it is that’s going on that you might want to effect, and then figure out if you can, in fact, put things together in a way that you can have a successful intervention. I might add that I think in this 21st century most of the interventions that I think will be worthwhile will be proactive rather then reactive. Generally, if you are reacting to a crisis, you’re already too late. And if you’re really good and you can think these things through strategically, you can probably come up with a host of scenarios around the world of countries that could become another Iraq or Afghanistan which has obviously lead to a tremendous expense of blood and treasure. But there are ways to prevent those sorts of things, and those kinds of intervention, I don’t think always has to be military, but it can be a combination of things that the developing world has a responsibility to try to shape the world so that you don’t have
Is there a specific country or region where you believe those preliminary steps could be taken?
Well I can give you an example of a country where we should be concerned about the future. I worry, and I’ve said this before even when I was in uniform, very much about Nigeria. Nigeria’s got enormous wealth. It’s got a pretty clean division between the Muslim north and the Christian South. It’s got serious problems in terms of its government, and it’s got serious issues about the oil bunkering that goes on there and piracy and drug trafficking and organized crime. This is a part of Africa, that if in fact it turned into another crisis, would really upset a significant chunk of Africa, not just the one country, and I think there are a lot of things that could be put together, between now and that fateful day, that wouldn’t cost a lot of money; that you could actually, gradually intervene in such a way that could help the Nigerians avoid the future blood bath or war.
There was lots of talk about the United States “leading from behind” during the intervention in Libya. What do you make of that?
Well I don’t particularly like the term “leading from behind;” I know what people mean by that, but I think it has a negative quality to it as well and I think the United States actually did quite well there. But I think that we could have gone a little bit further in the sense that the day after the hostilities started winding down, there were a lot of people that needed medical attention, and I would have liked to have seen the USS Hope off the coast of Libya, or some hospital ships that the Navy has because there were a lot of people that needed serious help, and I think that was one of the things where we could have contributed more. I think the United States; we’ve got to understand that we can bring things to the playing field that nobody else can, and I call it kind of a “whole of government” approach. But generally there are three pillars to any kind of intervention: there is a security pillar, an economic pillar, and a governance and rule of law pillar, and I think that there are subsets to all of those but overall those are the three big blocks. And if you can craft a strategic plan so that you can bring the proper response and shape it in such a way that it makes a huge difference. The leading from behind aspect, to me, means that the United States has a responsibility to try to get others involved as well, this unilateral world that we are used to in the 20th century as well, is pretty much gone. It’s been replaced by a multilateral world with a lot of countries, with a lot of capabilities as well, and we need to invite them to do their share as well. We don’t have to do it all by ourselves, and I guess that’s my view.
In an age of increasing economic restraint, could the U.S. intervene in a case like Libya again?
Well, I think so, we can’t ignore what’s going on in the global playing field, we get a lot to shaping the world as it is and there is a lot of goodness there. And it’s also a world that is in transition. It’s much more globalized; there’s Arab Spring like phenomenons that are going to be going on in other countries, it won’t just be Arab countries. The masses, if I can use that term; the public is much more educated now about how the rest of the world is and they want their share of opportunity and they want the world to be safer and better for their children and all the things that we want. And I think it’s a golden opportunity for the U.S. to pivot a little bit into the 21st century and take on what is almost a moral responsibility to make sure that the developing world has that opportunity. So for example, if we are talking about energy, which is a critical problem and one that we don’t tackle very well in our country, but if we can help the developing world skip the pollution stage of their development- that’s a good one. And that means sharing technology. That means bringing technological know-how to parts of the world that otherwise wouldn’t have it. So energy is potential a very big aspect of international security in the 21st century. How we lead in solving those problems is going to very, very important.
Among the challenges faced by lawmakers in 2013, what do you believe are the top priorities in terms of defense?
Well, I think the problems we have in our system have to do with acquisition reform, entitlements, and the unsupportable cost of military healthcare. We just have to fix this. It’s been a long time coming; it didn’t happen on anybody’s particular watch, but we have got to do a better job at being more efficient in using our resources. In terms of the forest itself, I think that we’re headed in the right direction. I think in our so called “Pivot to Asia;” I think it would be a huge mistake to pivot away from anything else. We’re a globally influential country, that we need to compete wherever we can, Africa is certainly one of the areas that I think has enormous potential and I think that we could be doing better there. Obviously the Middle East is going to be a tinder box for some time to come, there is nothing wrong with paying attention to Asia, but don’t forget Europe, that’s where our real bedrock of allies are; so the United States is not really in a position to be able to pick and choose in terms of what the priorities are. We are a global power, we have to pay attention to our global responsibilities.
Why is it important for Americans to engage in foreign policy?
So I think by the year 2050 most Americans want this country to be where they are accustom to being, a nation of great consequence, a nation that still does the right thing in the world, a beacon of hope for those that are still trying to make it on the planet, a force for good, and a powerful economic nation that still is dominant in the world. We have a lot of work to do between now and then; but I think that’s what most Americans envision, and if that’s the truth, the option to opt out of this doesn’t exist — you have to be in the game. We shaped this world; we made it what it is, in large part, and the world still looks to us to lead and to do the right thing. We have some big problems to fix, and I hope, I’m confident that we will do that. I’ve been around long enough to hear predictions of U.S. decline every decade, and it’s never happened; I don’t think it’s going to happen this time, but this time the problems are really serious, and I don’t know if it’s that I’m getting older and a little bit more experienced but this one, these are serious times that we are facing, and we’re going to have to pull together to sort ourselves out, but I think we will.