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NATO Commander Confirms Voicing Pentagon Concerns

The general questioned Rumsfeld's role, according to the new book by Woodward.

October 05, 2006|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Gen. James L. Jones, the U.S. Marine Corps officer who serves as NATO's supreme commander, acknowledged Wednesday that he had voiced concerns about the diminished role of the military's uniformed leadership to Gen. Peter Pace just before Pace rose to the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as reported in a new book.

But Jones insisted the concerns he expressed focused more on the legal structure of the Pentagon's upper echelons than on personalities. In "State of Denial," by journalist Bob Woodward, Jones is quoted as telling Pace that the Joint Chiefs -- the top uniformed officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- had improperly "surrendered" authority to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The account of Jones' meeting with Pace -- in which he is said to have expressed "chagrin" that Pace would want to serve as "a parrot on the secretary's shoulder" -- is among the more notable claims in Woodward's book, because it marks the first time an officer of Jones' rank and influence has publicly questioned Rumsfeld's role in war planning while still on active duty.

Several high-ranking retired generals, including two who commanded Army divisions in Iraq and a Marine who was a senior staff member for the Joint Chiefs, have called for Rumsfeld's resignation in recent months because of his handling of the war. Jones, however, sought Wednesday to distance himself from those officers.

"I do not associate myself with the so-called 'revolt of the generals,' " Jones said. "I do not in any way associate myself with that particular group, and will not associate myself in my retired life, either."

But Jones acknowledged that he had a wide-ranging conversation with Pace -- a fellow Marine who has served with Jones in a variety of posts since 1970 -- during a September 2005 visit Pace made to Stuttgart, Germany, just after his nomination as chairman.

He said that though the two discussed Iraq policy, the concerns Jones raised about the chairman's role were focused on legal changes made in the 1980s that took the Joint Chiefs out of the chain of command and stripped them of responsibility in acquiring new weapons.

"The context of the conversation was to prepare him and give him the best support I could," Jones said at a gathering of the Council on Foreign Relations. "The sum total of the discussion was two friends talking, one trying to help the other."

In later comments, Jones did not dispute Woodward's account that the NATO commander considered quitting his post as a protest, but indicated he did not seriously contemplate handing in his resignation. "We all have bad days," he told reporters.

Jones' appearance at the council was timed to today's formal handover of all allied troops in Afghanistan to NATO command, a milestone Jones said was one of the most momentous in the history of the alliance.

As part of the handover, 12,000 U.S. troops will come under NATO command in eastern Afghanistan, the largest contingent of U.S. forces to serve as part of an alliance operation. The NATO mission is currently headed by a British officer, Lt. Gen. David Richards. An American four-star general, Dan K. McNeil, is succeeding Richards.

Despite the changeover, about 8,000 U.S. forces -- and a small number of foreign forces -- will remain under direct American command. Among those troops are American and French special forces assigned to conduct aggressive counterterrorism operations along the Pakistani border, including the search for Osama bin Laden.

In his remarks about Woodward's book, Jones did not directly dispute most of the written account, calling the Washington Post journalist his "good friend" and acknowledging the two went out to dinner in Brussels, Belgium, NATO's headquarter city, in December 2005 and talked "for a few hours" as part of Woodward's reporting.

"I don't challenge Bob's characterization of it, except that, had I seen it, I probably would have suggested that the tone was a little bit more critical than I intended it to be," Jones said.

In Woodward's account, Jones told Pace, "You're going to face a debacle and be part of the debacle in Iraq."

On Wednesday, Jones said he did not believe Iraq was a debacle, and while he would not directly comment on whether the quote was accurate, he added: "I think that is a much stronger word than I would use."

peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Julian E. Barnes contributed to this report.

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