By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 5, 2006
One of the highest-ranking generals in the U.S. military yesterday stood by views attributed to him in a controversial new book about the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq but said it was important to understand the context in which those views were expressed.
Marine Gen. James L. Jones, the U.S. commander for Europe, is quoted in "State of Denial," by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, as believing that the war in Iraq is a "debacle" and that "The Joint Chiefs have been systematically emasculated by Rumsfeld." As Marine commandant, the post he held before moving to Europe, Jones was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The book also quotes Jones as delivering a warning about working with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who was about to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs. "You should not be the parrot on the secretary's shoulder," Jones reportedly told Pace.
Jones's confirmation of Woodward's account is especially noteworthy because in the book, Pace denies that Jones made such remarks to him. Also, Jones's comments suggest that active-duty generals are beginning to criticize the defense secretary and the Iraq war with the harshness that several retired generals have used recently.
Speaking at a Washington meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, Jones said he had a long discussion with Pace in Stuttgart, Germany, in September 2005, and then met with Woodward in Brussels that December. He characterized both Pace and Woodward as old friends. Speaking of the book's account of the September conversation, he said, "I don't challenge Bob's characterization of it, except that had I seen [the book], I probably would have suggested that the tone was more critical than I intended it to be."
Jones, who plans to retire in a few months, repeatedly declined to discuss the specific wording of his comments to Woodward about Iraq. "I'm not going to get into recollections of adjectives," he said. "I did talk about Iraq with a concern that Iraq deserves."
"I don't think that Iraq is a debacle," Jones told reporters after the meeting. "Iraq is a big problem."
Jones insisted there is a sharp distinction between his private comments and the criticisms made this year by retired generals. "I do not associate myself with the so-called revolt of the generals," he said. "I believe that general officers, both active and retired, have an obligation to let their views be known," but should do so in a "helpful" way.
The bottom line on his conversation with Pace, he said, was that it was "two friends talking, one trying to help the other."
Jones said he has not discussed the comments in the book with Rumsfeld, who has been traveling this week. "We're a team, we're together, we have occasional family disagreements," he said after the meeting.