James Jones versus Hillary in the Middle East

I pointed out the other day that those worried about Obama’s foreign policy plans ought to be more focused on his National Security Advisor, reported to be retired Marine General James Jones, than Hillary at State.

And there are reasons to be concerned about Jones. For example, Jones currently leads a US Chamber of Commerce initiative to forge an energy consensus that espouses some questionable views (though I am thrilled about an NSA who has been focusing on energy in recent years).

Eli Lake offers a different view, focusing on Jones’ possible tension with Hillary as it relates to Middle East peace. Lake argues that Jones will be much more accommodating of (moderate) Palestinian views in any negotiations than Hillary.

Last November, Condoleezza Rice appointed [Jones] as her special envoy for Middle East security, with a particular emphasis on working with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian security services. Last August, he drafted a report on security in the Palestinian territories that is said to have been highly critical of Israel’s policies in the territories and its attitude toward the Palestinian Authority’s security services. The White House and State Department opted not to publish the report.

In August, Israel’s leading newspaper, Ha’aretz, reported that the draft report challenged Israel’s conception of its security interests in the West Bank as being overly broad, and that the IDF in particular was too dismissive of the Palestinian security services. 


In his interview with Inside the Pentagon, Jones said that the Palestinians should be granted increasing degrees of local sovereignty over the West Bank until an independent state is born–with an emphasis on giving the Palestinians experience with governance. On Sunday, Ha’aretz reported that Jones favors dispatching a NATO force to keep the peace in the interim. That’s a plan that the Israeli government would likely fiercely resist on the grounds that the Jewish state’s defense doctrine has always spurned the presence of foreign troops on its territory and that it could be a reprise of the disasters of the U.N. mission to Lebanon.

Now, consider his potential nemesis, Hillary Clinton. It is true that there is some doubt about where she ultimately lands on the Israel-Palestine question–confusion that followed her famous hug with Suha Arafat. But since becoming senator, she’s been a persistent critic of Palestinian media and schooling, an issue that has traditionally been swept under the rug by the State Department and a central argument the Israeli right has used to warn against the delusions of the Oslo process. Clinton has described the teaching of anti-Israel views in Palestinian textbooks as "child abuse," and held hearings on the topic in an effort to get the Bush administration to do more on the issue.

By focusing on the underlying tenets of Palestinian culture, Senator Clinton has in a way made common cause with the Bush administration hawks. While General Jones wants to take steps now to empower Abbas and his Fatah party to take over a Palestinian state, Clinton is asking if even the Palestinian moderates are ready to govern.

Now, it appears Hillary has negotiated direct access to Obama. And it doesn’t sound like Jones intends to act as a gatekeeper to mediate Hillary’s views.

Mrs. Clinton … has told friends that she does not expect the national security adviser to stand between her and the president.


Because of his physical proximity — the national security adviser works in the West Wing of the White House and consults with the president several times a day — General Jones will automatically serve as a counter to the State Department. But a State Department that is at war with the White House is the last thing that General Jones wants, his friends and associates say.

“He’s not the sort of person who is going to be chasing down whether Hillary went through him or not,” said one of General Jones’s friends, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He doesn’t have that kind of an ego.”

General Jones, friends say, gets along well with Mrs. Clinton and has even hired some of her former staff members to work for him on the energy task force.

Now, frankly, I’m more optimistic than Lake about Hillary’s aspirations in Israel (and to be fair, he suggests she might just be doing what Senators from NY do–go hawkish on Israeli issues), though he certainly follows these issues more closely than I.

That said, his notion that the push for soft power might derive from the NSA, rather than State, suggests a fascinating dynamic.

20 replies
  1. merkwurdiglieber says:

    Clinton could end up like Condi, but the main benefit seems to be that
    of getting the diva out of town into a roadshow more suited to her skill

  2. bmaz says:

    I don’t understand Lake here. I get the point he he making, but his argument doesn’t really support it. He plays the education/culture thing of Clinton off of the security/policing bit of Jones. Yes, they are both part of a bigger picture on I/P things, but they are not inherently inconsistent or at loggerheads with each other. Why are both not valid concepts?

    • emptywheel says:

      They might well be. Though I think his key distinction (particularly given the way he suggests Hillary’s recent hawkishness is pandering to NY’s Jewish community) is that Jones is willing to piss off Israel mightily, whereas Hillary champions Israel’s unself-critical arguments. If the education thing were compatible with Jones’ views, after all, it would require the alteration of both Palestinian textbooks as well as Israeli ones.

      Also, it seems to come from Jones’ belief–based partly in his real success at fostering self-governance in Jenin–that the Palestinians can self-govern. As opposed to Lake’s suggestion (that may or may not be valid) that Hillary’s not even willing to trust Palestinian moderates with self-governance.

      • bmaz says:

        Well, I agree. I think. We don’t really know if the Palestinians can self govern or no though; they have never been given the chance to do so. They have to be given some dignity, autonomy and the space to make the messy evolution at some point; which is somewhat consistent with what Jones seems to be saying. They also have to stop breeding discontent and hatred, which is the HRC education thing I suppose.

        • emptywheel says:

          I suspect Jones would say that’s what they accomplished, at least thus far, in Jenin.

          And both sides of the equation (particularly when you consider the settlers) need to stop breeding discontent and hatred. Blaming the Palestinians alone for that is nonsense.

        • Leen says:

          Discontent been brewing and breeding for 50 years. The daily humiliation and abusive treatment dished out to many Palestinians by Israeli soldiers and settlers would get under anyone’s skin.

  3. JohnLopresti says:

    Looking at the neighbor thread about AL Shelby, MO McCaskill appearances in media today, especially with respect to their states’ respective future plans for nuclear generation of electric, and in the context of the din of hype about offshore wells as panacea, I happened upon an industrial-based review two days ago of Gen JJones’ work a US Chamber of C., at The OilDrum.

  4. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    I seem to view foreign policy from a whole different perspective than what I see in the blogs and mags. Yeah, if you got a degree in International Relations, I suppose that you obsess on Who Gets What Appointment. FWIW, I’m more interested in who can read a well written summary about biological indicators (soils, water quality, air quality, demographic factors, yadda-yadda…) and synthesize those conclusions and apply them to policy.

    Because if you look at Afghanistan, Palestine, Dafur, regions of Asia, China (water shortages), Pakistan (worries about water shortages), and other ‘hot spots’ a lot of what seems to be driving ‘crises’ are basic issues of biology and degraded natural resources and impacted ecosystems: soils are depleted, which means that they can’t hold water well, which in turn leads to rapid, destructive runoff and flooding, which leads to… a whole range of problems that circle around to this: ‘Got Food?’

    There is a level of foreign policy that’s about personnel and personal interactions.
    But the more fundamental level is about biological indicators. Whoever has the best handle on those factors, can synthesize them and apply them to policy, is going to have more credibility as time goes on, because those are the fundamental drivers over the long term.

    • bell says:

      i really agree with you.. thanks for saying that.. unfortunately in politics bigger picture stuff seems to be neglected to the immediate reality… one of the reasons i didn’t care for hillary is her lack of neutrality towards the middle east. i had hoped that obama would usher in a more balanced view towards the israel/palestine issue.. so far that doesn’t look like it is going to happen… i would say usa’s position towards the middle east can’t get much worse, but maybe i am wrong about that..

      • bmaz says:

        I think Marcy’s post right here shows exactly the overall balance that is being set up by Obama, which is diametrically different than what you describe.

        • MadDog says:

          Regardless of past policy positions held, I would remark that much of the future foreign policy will be tremendously influenced by how well (or not) the Obama poker players get along.

  5. bell says:

    it’s more fun being an optimist then a pessimist.. as for the past usa history of neutrality in the middle east is non existent..

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Here’s what I ought to have typed:
      Under Condaleeza Rice and Stephen Hadley, the Bu$hCo ideologues ignored biological indicators; no wonder they got side-swipped by crisis, after crisis, after crisis. Honestly, anyone reading the Christian Science Monitor or the New Yorker could have spotted the gestation of problems in Afghanistan, Dafur, and many other places.

      Here’s hoping that BOTH Clinton and Gen Jones focus on the underlying biological, climatology, economic, and demographic data that makes for good decision-making. I define that approach as ’soft power’.

      Call me picky, but it doesn’t appear that the Heritage Foundation or the Wingnut Think Tanks fundamentally grasp the very serious implications of a problem as seemingly ‘boring’ as soil degradation — whether in Niger, Thailand, Nebraska, or Brazil. Thus, they have no solutions to problems caused by depleted soils (e.g., flooding, erosion, drought, famine…).

      I assume, therefore, that the Wingnut Think Tankers will oppose both Hillary Clinton and Gen Jones at every possible opportunity, aided, funded, and abetted by war profiteers and drug cartels who like things just the chaotic, dysfunctional way they are.

      But bullets don’t feed people.
      And even exporting relief programs doesn’t work over time; just adds to destabilizing dynamics.
      Therein lies the opportunity for Clinton, Jones, and Obama.
      Because the old, munitions-based ’solutions’ haven’t worked, they’ll have to try something different.

      • bell says:

        to add to your comments – depleted uranium and warfare byproducts, which seem to be present in greater amounts in these same areas is in direct conflict with your biological concerns… it seems the military option, whether it be the selling or use of these products is a primary economic driver in the usa today.. to change that would be a good step in the right direction, but it would have a severe impact on an economy already facing many challenges… my guess is the movement towards war and more war continues and the respect for habitat remains an ignored concern by most, especially those in the halls of ‘financial and political’ power…

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          Energy and ‘national security’ are two sides of the same coin.
          Change the basis of energy, and inadvertently the form of ’security’ will alter. And vice versa.

          Part of my childhood was spent downwind from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, so from a practical point of view I think the Iranians are nuts to build nuclear plants — even if they claim that its for heat and lighting.

          Yeah, the French manage.
          So do the Japanese, but the Japanese have excellent engineers — yet they are on an earthquake fault line. And one of their nuclear reactors was seriously scary a few years back after an earthquake occurred while a reactor was operating.

          Iran is on an earthquake fault, and IIRC they’d have the Russians build their facility… (dunno where I read that…) Now, personally, I wouldn’t be very excited to have the same outfit that built Chernobyl creating my new nuclear facility, but hey — maybe I’m too snippity?

          Problems remain: military and munitions can’t solve water shortages, food shortages, or problems related to population pressures and soil depletion.

          So: we have new problems.
          They are driven by biological factors.
          They require new solutions.

          Whether leadership in Congress and the WH will be courageous, bold and/or desperate enough to call bullshit on unworkable systems remains to be seen. I’m not holding my breath, but at the same time it does appear that smart people are quite fed up with the existing structures that are NOT functioning, and can’t be sustained.

  6. skippy says:

    well the great thing about obama having named jim jones to his administration is that at least now all those “drinking the kool aid” jokes will actually be funny.

  7. Leen says:

    I think Jones will bring some refreshing and much needed new views and strategies in the I/P oonflict. Hillary has voted to many times with the I lobby to have any faith in.
    A dear friend is back in Hebron for his 16th time..he said the situation is worse than ever before. Some of the Christian Peace Maker Team members have been beat up by settlers after walking Palestinian kids to school and some Olive tree protection scuffles

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