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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 8:29 pm | A Few Clouds 58º


Mark Shields: Unfriendly Fire in Washington

Obama's national security adviser already the target of sniping from envious rivals

The campaign, as reported in both The New York Times and The Washington Post, to wound or discredit President Obama’s national security adviser and former Marine four-star Gen. James L. Jones reminds me of a favorite line from college commencement addresses, in which the speaker tells the graduates: “Life is not like college. That’s true — life is not like college. No, the fact is that life is a lot more like high school.”

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

The critics of Jones, hiding their identity, reportedly come from those inside and outside the Obama administration who want the national security adviser’s job either for themselves or for some crony. One repeated knock on Jones — that he’s only putting in 12-and-a-half-hour days at the White House — indicts both the insularity and the shallowness of inside Washington.

Understand this about Washington, a beautiful city where I’ve voluntarily and happily lived for the past 45 years: We do not make movies or airplanes or grow wheat in Washington. There is no crop or product for which we can claim credit. So, the inclination, when you cannot measure output, is to measure input.

Question: What did you do yesterday, Mark?

Answer: I got here at 7 a.m., and I didn’t leave until midnight.

Translated that means: I cannot tell you exactly what I did yesterday, but I can brag about how long I didn’t do it.

Let me tell you about Jim Jones. He graduated from Georgetown in 1966, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and sent to Vietnam, where he survived combat as a platoon leader and company commander, and earned both the Bronze Star and the Silver Star.

During his 40 years in uniform, Jones served as Marine Corps commandant and supreme allied commander of NATO. In December, Obama chose Jones to be his principal adviser on national security, responsible for coordinating the efforts of the Pentagon, the State Department and the nation’s intelligence agencies.

Let’s get back to the indictment that Jones only works 12-and-a-half-hour days. What Jones brings to his current mission are his judgment, knowledge, perspective and often-painful experience. He is not a think-tank commando.

No, Jones learned about foreign policy and national security — and earned his medals — in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia at a time when so many of his current snipers were “gaming” the nation’s draft law to secure graduate-school deferments in order to duck military service. While they were writing their master’s theses, Jones was writing letters of condolence to the widows and parents of fallen Marines.

Jones, himself, dismisses the attacks of his anonymous hit men as mere “sniping at my ankles that’s to be expected.” Then he quips, “The first government job I had (as a Marine lieutenant), people were actually trying to kill me.” A senior White House official, speaking on background, stated that “the president has confidence in (Jones), and he’s important to what we’re doing here.” Another senior White House aide adds that “the president stands behind Jim Jones 100 percent.” Not exactly ringing endorsements by the usual Washington standards of rhetorical excess.

What makes Jones so valuable — and what you hope the brilliant, young president appreciates — is that he is a grown-up. Jones does not have some compulsive need to have his picture, or his name, in the papers or to be interviewed on TV a minimum of three times a week. Jones knows who he is and is not pining to become Obama’s New Best Friend. He just seeks, like the good Marine he has always been, to do his duty for his country — this time as Obama’s national security adviser.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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