Goodbye, Mr. Jones

General Jim Jones will go down in history as the least successful national security advisor since Admiral John Poindexter was forced out of office during the Reagan administration. This fact alone illuminates just one of the many miscalculations that were made in hiring Jones. He was a military man went the conventional wisdom; military men ...

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

General Jim Jones will go down in history as the least successful national security advisor since Admiral John Poindexter was forced out of office during the Reagan administration. This fact alone illuminates just one of the many miscalculations that were made in hiring Jones. He was a military man went the conventional wisdom; military men do well in such jobs. After all, the most successful national security advisor in history was Gen. Brent Scowcroft. And Scowcroft was clearly the model President Barack Obama had in mind when he selected Jones.

The problem was -- as Poindexter demonstrated -- that military experience is no guarantee of success in the job. Poindexter's predecessor Robert MacFarlane also had an extensive military background and he was another disaster. (And who was the free-lancing go-to guy in the Reagan NSC? Col. Oliver North. 'Nuff said.)

But Jones was no Scowcroft in so many ways. Scowcroft came into office with a deep, personal relationship with the president. Jones and Obama, aloofness squared, never got there. Scowcroft came to the job with a well-defined world-view, cultivated over a life of intensive and thoughtful study of international affairs. One diplomat who worked with Jones when he was supreme allied commander in Europe said "he never had the slightest interest in foreign policy." He was just interested in military affairs and even in that respect he was not particularly creative or intellectually curious.

General Jim Jones will go down in history as the least successful national security advisor since Admiral John Poindexter was forced out of office during the Reagan administration. This fact alone illuminates just one of the many miscalculations that were made in hiring Jones. He was a military man went the conventional wisdom; military men do well in such jobs. After all, the most successful national security advisor in history was Gen. Brent Scowcroft. And Scowcroft was clearly the model President Barack Obama had in mind when he selected Jones.

The problem was — as Poindexter demonstrated — that military experience is no guarantee of success in the job. Poindexter’s predecessor Robert MacFarlane also had an extensive military background and he was another disaster. (And who was the free-lancing go-to guy in the Reagan NSC? Col. Oliver North. ‘Nuff said.)

But Jones was no Scowcroft in so many ways. Scowcroft came into office with a deep, personal relationship with the president. Jones and Obama, aloofness squared, never got there. Scowcroft came to the job with a well-defined world-view, cultivated over a life of intensive and thoughtful study of international affairs. One diplomat who worked with Jones when he was supreme allied commander in Europe said "he never had the slightest interest in foreign policy." He was just interested in military affairs and even in that respect he was not particularly creative or intellectually curious.

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David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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