Transcript: Gen. Jim Jones on 'FNS'

Published February 15, 2010

| FoxNews.com

The following is a rush transcript of the February 14, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Sporadic but intense gun battles have marked the second day of a major U.S.-led military operation against the Taliban stronghold in Marjah, Afghanistan.

Marines as well as British and Afghan forces are trying to clear out insurgents and restore government control. So far, at least 27 insurgents have been killed.

Joining us now is a man just back from the region, the president's national security adviser, retired General Jim Jones.

And, General, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

GEN. JIM JONES, PRESIDENT'S NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thank you, Chris. Good to be here. Thanks.

WALLACE: This is the biggest military offensive of the Afghan war. How is it going? And what are the casualties that have been sustained on both sides?

JONES: Well, these are the early moments of the — of the war. The casualties so far have been light. We have lost, sadly, some coalition lives.

But what's important about this operation is that it is the first major operation in which we will demonstrate, I think successfully, that the new elements of the strategy which combine not only security operations but economic reform and good governance at the local and regional level, with a much more visible presence of Afghan forces, will take place.

And then this is critical, I think, to achieving our goals in Afghanistan. It's critical to regaining control of the south. Helmand River valley, of course, has the — is the center for a lot of bad things that we've been worried about for a long time.

The arrival of our new troops and the resurgence of the commitment that everyone's given to this is really palpable. We have more civilians on the ground that are working hand in hand with the military, AID, and international aid is flowing more effectively.

And so the combination of all these things, I think, is going to give the people of the southern part of this country a renewed sense that this is the — this is their destiny and they can help shape it in a very powerful way over the next few weeks.

WALLACE: In that sense, because you say first there's this military component that's going on now — once you clear Marjah, you're going to insert Afghan civilian — government forces there. How important is this operation, both sides of it, to the president's surge strategy and the overall future of our efforts in Afghanistan?

JONES: I think it's very significant. And I think that, again, it's the cohesion that now exists between all elements of national power and international power that are coming together and will be a very, very good and, I think, successfully demonstrated and executed operation that is going to make a big change in not only the southern part of Afghanistan but will send shockwaves through the rest of the country that there is a new direction, there is new commitment, and that we're going to be successful.

WALLACE: Iran's president, Ahmadinejad, said again this week that Iran is a nuclear state. Now, President Obama continues to talk about sanctions, but the Chinese are still not on board. The Russians have not made, from at least what we hear publicly, a firm commitment.

Why not go outside the U.N. and form a coalition of the willing to impose tough sanctions right now?

JONES: Well, I think that we are on a steady path — on a clear path here for what has to happen next, all the while leaving the door open for Iran to do the right thing. Frankly, it is in — it is in their interest to do this.

It is reasonable. It is fair. And it will — if they — if they did take the offer that's on the table and work with the IAEA, they would be better off.

They would be better off because they would signal with concrete — by concrete measures that they're serious about only achieving peaceful use of nuclear power, which we recognize is the privilege of any country.

Having said that, for reasons that are somewhat mysterious but nonetheless constant, they have not walked through that door. And they have not taken us up on the offer.

And therefore, the president was clear through 2009 that we'd give it time and then we would draw our conclusions. We're drawing our conclusions based on non-action on the Iranian part and now moving towards a clear set of sanctions. Now...

WALLACE: But — but, General...

JONES: ... the U.N. is — U.N.'s our first step, but that's not to say that we would — we would rule out any other steps, as you suggested.

WALLACE: But, General, it all seems to happening in slow motion. The president kept saying all through the second half of 2009, "The end of the year is the deadline." All right.

JONES: That's right.

WALLACE: Now we're in mid-February.

JONES: Right.

WALLACE: And we're hearing, "Well, we're moving toward sanctions." And we know that if there were sanctions in the U.N., the Russians and the Chinese, if they even agree, are going to try to water them down. Why not get tough as quickly as possible?

JONES: Well, I think we will get tough as quickly as possible. But you know, whether it happens this week or next week is not the issue. We do have tremendous global solidarity on this issue, which is, Chris, extremely important.

Proliferation is the biggest threat that we face. We've achieved some good progress with North Korea on this issue. We would like to do the same thing with Iran. But at the end of the day, the Europeans — most of the countries in the Arab world, by the way, who would be vulnerable to an arms race if we don't — if we're not successful here — a nuclear arms race in the Gulf is a possible consequence.

And so I think Iran needs to weigh very carefully how it wishes to proceed, but not...

WALLACE: But you keep saying they weigh carefully. They — haven't they sent their message to you?

JONES: Well, when we...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: ... going to take no for an answer?

JONES: We're drawing that conclusion, and we are going through the U.N. this month to present sanctions and to seek solidarity. We have tremendous support.

And you're correct, China — we need to work on China a little bit more. But China wants to be seen as a responsible global influence in this. On this issue, they can't — they cannot — they cannot be non- supportive.

And on Russia, Russia is supportive and is on board and has been a steady friend and ally on this with President Obama, President Medvedev working closely together on this issue.

WALLACE: Does this administration support regime change in Iran?

JONES: We are not actively engineering regime change in the sense that we believe that the people of Iran will carve out their own destiny. But it's clear...

WALLACE: But why not do more?

JONES: Well, it's clear...

WALLACE: Why does the U.S. not do more to actively support the pro- democracy movement?

JONES: Well, we are — we support pro-democracy. We know that internally that there's a very serious problem. We're about to add to that regime's difficulties by engineering, participating in, very tough sanctions, which we support, not mild sanctions. These are very tough sanctions. And the combination of those things could well trigger regime change. It's possible.

WALLACE: I'm sorry, you're talking about the sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard?

JONES: The combination of internal and external problems are certainly not going to make life easier for the — for the government of Iran.

WALLACE: I want to switch to another country. And I want to play a clip of Vice President Biden from this week. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I'm very optimistic about Iraq. I think it's going to be one of the great achievements of this administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Question: Does President Obama believe that what your administration has done in Iraq is a great achievement of his administration?

JONES: Well, I think if Iraq turns out to be a stable democracy, which it appears to be on the road, however rocky, to do, if we can withdraw our troops on the schedules that we have outlined, it will certainly be a great achievement for the country and, by association, the administration that is in power when that day comes.

WALLACE: Well, OK. But I think you take my point. As senators, Obama and Biden voted repeatedly against the surge. And I want to play a clip of what Senator Obama said back then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Do you really believe that we would be where we are now in Iraq if Obama and Biden had prevailed and the surge had never taken place?

JONES: Well, I think what happened in Iraq was more than just the surge. I've said that before, long before I came to work in the administration, that the surge was a tactic, not a strategy, and it happened to coincide with a lot of other things that were taking place.

The people of Iraq in al-Anbar province — as an example, a province that's roughly a third the size of the whole country — rejected the idea that Al Qaeda was going to be the way in which they were going to live their lives and rose up against it.

A lot of things happen around the country simultaneously. The surge, I think, wound up stabilizing the region that it was — it was inserted into. Any time you add 30,000...

WALLACE: But do you think we'd be where we are now in Iraq if there had been no surge?

JONES: Well, it's — I mean, that's a — that's a hypothetical. I think the — I think the surge helped. I think the — but the other things that happened simultaneously did also.

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about this battle over terror here inside the Beltway. This week, your deputy, Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan, wrote a controversial article in USA Today in which he said this, "Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of Al Qaeda."

General, do you think that challenging the policy of the way that Abdulmutallab was handled on Christmas Day, challenging the decision to hold civilian trials in New York City, the 9/11 trials — do you really think that aids the enemy?

JONES: Well, let me — let me just say that I've worked with John Brennan for a full year. John has a remarkable career in defense of this country. He is passionate about keeping us safe.

Frankly, if I were a terrorist somewhere in the country and I knew John Brennan was involved in tracking me down, I wouldn't be feeling too comfortable about my long-term prospects. John does his job extremely well, and we're fortunate to have him.

On the issue of politics, we believe in the National Security Council that national security has — is not a partisan issue. We consult with both sides of the Hill. We engage with both sides of the Hill. We tell what we do for one side, we do for the other. And we're trying to make sure that this is the way we proceed, so...

WALLACE: But when you're — when we're talking about your deputy, the counterterrorism adviser to the president, and he charges in USA Today that criticism of the president's policies serves the goals of Al Qaeda...

JONES: Well...

WALLACE: ... that couldn't be more political.

JONES: ... I believe that the intent here was — is to say that, you know, good, open discussion and debate is reasonable. But on the issue of keeping our country safe and secure, this is not a Republican issue. It's not a Democratic issue.

And I know John Brennan, and I know how we do business on a daily basis, and it is to, first and foremost, make sure the American people are free and do that in a responsible way, not a — not a partisan way.

WALLACE: Do you regret that statement in USA Today?

JONES: I don't — I don't - I think that's not for me to say, but I...

WALLACE: Well, you're his boss.

JONES: ... I know — I know John Brennan. I know how he operates. And I'm happy he's on our team.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about something else, because this weekend, yesterday, John Brennan was talking about concern over if detainees from Guantanamo are released that some of them may go back to the battlefield. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR HOMELAND SECURITYAND COUNTERTERRORISM: People sometimes use that figure, 20 percent, and say, "Oh, my goodness, one out of five detainees return to some type of extremism — extremist activity."

You know, the American penal system — the recidivism rate is up in about 50 percent or so, as far as return to crime. Twenty percent isn't that bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Twenty percent isn't that bad?

JONES: Well, I think that what we have to make sure is that we do the best we can. We're not going to be able to keep people confined for the rest of their lives without some sort of due process.

We have been working with many countries to accept them back. We have rehabilitation programs that are in place not only — in different countries, and there's going — it's never going to be zero.

But if we get the big — we make sure that the big guys, the ones that are really the bad actors and the leaders of this very dangerous movement, are, in fact, incarcerated for that rest of their natural lives, then I think we'll be OK.

WALLACE: But I think the concern that some people have is that they've said that this administration is treating terror detainees as common criminals. And it may be one thing if a pickpocket goes back on the street. It's — I don't have to tell you, sir. You're...

JONES: Right.

WALLACE: ... this is your life's work. It's a very different thing if a terrorist goes back to work.

JONES: Correct, so — but we have a long history of having convicted terrorists in federal courts, locking them up for many, many years. And you know, we're — we will continue to do the best we can.

But zero is probably not going to be the — you know, the standard, even though we'll try to achieve it. But we want to make sure that the Guantanamo Bay detainees, those that we can find other homes for in other countries — take them; in Saudi Arabia's case, for example, or Yemen's case, that we have a rehabilitation program.

We're going to have to do the same thing in reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan. Part of the — part of this war is predicated on how we end it as well. And there's a certain amount of — there's a certain amount of reconciliation that has to take place. There's a certain amount of trials that have to take place.

We have want to make sure that the really bad actors never get out there to lead this thing again.

WALLACE: We have about a minute left, and I want to ask you about one more subject. Last August the president announced that something called the High-Value Interrogation Group, or HIG, was going to be run by the National Security Council, your agency, and this would be used, HIG, to question high-value terror detainees.

Why did it take almost six months from that announcement until the HIG finally became operational a few days ago? And why last December when Abdulmutallab was captured was the HIG, five months after the fact, still not operational?

JONES: Well, that's one — probably one case where we didn't support the president as well as he should have been supported. We constantly learn from our experiences.

This war to keep this country safe and our friends and allies safe is a 24/7 operation. People are working extraordinarily hard. In retrospect, would it have been better had we — had we had this group set up and we could have responded? Yes.

But I will say that also it's clear that regardless of what happened, that the information that we're getting from the captive — our captive is — both before and after Mirandizing, is very, very valuable and very helpful.

So we'll continue to do better. We'll continue to learn. We'll continue to evaluate how we respond to these situations. And we'll continue to pursue the fight against terrorists as best we can.

WALLACE: General Jones, we're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you so much for coming in today.

JONES: Thank you.

WALLACE: Please come back, sir.

JONES: Appreciate it, Chris. Thank you.

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