Air Force Gen. David C. Jones, whom President Carter has just reappointed to another two-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, makes no apologies for the past performance and says he intends to keep operating the same way in the future.
This will come as bad news to critics who charge Jones has not hung tough on military issues and was a patsy for the president in his first two years as chief of the nation's highest military body.
There is also the question of whether Jones, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs who planned the unsuccessful April mission to rescue American hostages in Iran, should accept blame for the failure and resign.
Jones has stiff answers for all those questions -- questions he may be asked this month when the Senate Armed Services Committee conducts confirmation hearings on his reappointment.
Answers came in rapid-fire order during an interview with The Washington Post in his Pentagon office overlooking the Potomac River he has been crisscrossing of late to testify before congressional committees worried about the U.S.-Soviet military balance.
Last Thursday, for example, Jones and his fellow chiefs made headlines by declaring that President Carter's fiscal 1981 defense budget was too small to combat the Soviet threat.
Although the testimony may have given the commander-in-chief political heartburn, Jones said this is the proper way for the chiefs to express their views -- directly to Congress when asked, not back-door.
What the chiefs did Thursday, he contended, is the only way to preserve civilian supremacy and maintain discipline within the military at all levels.
Besides that, Jones said, his approach is working. The Joint Chiefs are influencing national defense policy, he said, citing the rise in defense spending and Carter's turnarounds on taking U.S. troops out of Korea and draft registration.
"I have no apologies to make to anybody," said Jones, his voice rising in intensity as he made the case for his low-key style of leadership.
"I don't take a back seat to anybody in fighting for a strong national defense, but I do believe I can be more effective working hard to persuade others than to play to the crowd -- which is a very easy thing to do."
Jones, whose good looks have prompted some people to call him Steve Canyon, paused to mull that thought, finally adding:
"I've looked back at people who have had influence, and those who have played to the crowd and gotten loud applause, but the influence wasn't very great."
By law, the chairman and fellow cheifs are required to ride two horses at once. They are advisers to the president and, except for Jones, heads of their respective forces. Jones, though an Air Force general is supposed to present the chiefs' corporate view to the president, Congress and everybody else.
These restraints force the chiefs to argue for their positions primarily in private sessions with civilian leaders before decisions are made.
"It is not proper and honorable to go back-door and connive to try to upset something the commander-in-chief has decided upon," said Jones.
"That doesn't mean you're a patsy, that doesn't mean you disagree, but you do it in the proper form."
His critics within the active and retired military contend Jones lost the battle of the B1 by not fighting hard enough for the bomber and caved in to Carter by supporting the Panama Canal and Soviet arms limitation treaties.
Jones counters that he fought hard for the B1 bomber, still regretting that Carter did not put it into production. He acknowledges that he opposed a congressional plan to spend $750 million to build two test models of the B1 without putting it into production.
It would have been a "dead-end program. I said I'd spend that money someplace else," leading some people to conclude that he opposed the B1, Jones asserted.
"Clearly the B1 issue is totally misunderstood," said Jones, who was chief of the Air Force before becoming chairman two years ago. "I was a strong advocate of the B1. I was a strong advocate of the B70. I think we need a new strategic bomber."
As for his support of the Panama Canal and SALT II treaties, Jones declared:
"To my dying day I will say that the Panama Canal Treaty was clearly in the best interest of the United States."
SALT II, he added, also is "clearly in our best interest." The trouble is, he said, that some people expected too much of that treaty. They looked for it to stop the strategic arms race, he said.
"I expect a great deal less out of SALT." The treaty with the Soviet Union would ease but not solve the stratigic problem for the United States, Jones said. This is why the chiefs adjudged it "marginal but useful," he said.
"We are having influence," is Jones' answer to detractors who call the chiefs largely ornamental generals and admirals who shout down a well rather than shape national defense policy.
"Every one would like to have more influence. But we have turned a number of things around. For years the defense budget was going down. At least recently, we've been able to articulate our needs enough to turn it around and have some real growth."
Jones has been more manager than warrior during his service career. Some military officers contend he did not have the battle experience needed to regocnize the hostage rescue plan as too complicated.
"It was more complicated than we would like to have had," Jones conceeded. "But we didn't find a way to simplify it. After rehearsing with everything we had, we thought we had a good chance of succeeding, certainly well over 50-50. But we knew there was a chance of failure."
Should not he, as the nation's top-ranking officer, or the planner most responsible, resign or be fired for the failure?
"i would be concerned about adopting an approach where failure is unacceptable," Jones replied, adding:
"Nobody regretted more than the Joint Chiefs that we failed. But if you get into a sort of philosophy where you cannot afford to take a risk, then the system will act in an extremely cautious way.
"This is a risky world," said Jones, "and we'd better be willing to take risks, I hope our batting average is high, but to expect a hunderd percent batting average is naive and would increase the risks.
"I think this country has an obsesion with trying to fix blame for things. If there's a clear dereliction of duty, that's one thing. But to set out to fix blame is, I think, unbecoming to America . . . It was a sound plan."
Jones, a North Dakotan, is turning 59. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942. He rose to chief of staff of the Air Force in 1974 and was named chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1978.
Asked to name his biggest fears about the military for the future, Jones replied "readiness" -- the people and weaponry needed to respond quickly to a crisis and sustain themselves.
"It would be applauded a great deal more if I were out saying the most important thing we need is this weapon system. But Gen. [Curtis E.] LeMay taught me to make what you've got very good."
Internationally, said Jones in surveying problems he will be assessing these next two years as the president's chief military adviser. "South-west Asia is of greatest concern.
"It's important that this not become an East-West conflict where the nations of the region feel that they're pawns between two superpowers.You've got to be very careful of that."
"What needs to be seen is that the Soviet military capability is a threat to the nations of that region and we're willing to help them; make it in their self-interest."
"We'll be able to work the problems much better that way, rather than have the nations see themselves as pawns between two groups to the point that they say, 'Plague on both your houses.'"