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Jones: It Wouldn't Matter if There Were 200,000 Troops in Afghanistan

10:22 AM, Nov 10, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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As President Barack Obama prepares to make a final decision on Afghanistan, National Security Adviser Jim Jones dismissed and even seemed to mock a request for more troops from General Stanley McChrystal. "You could have 200,000 troops there and the country will swallow them up as it has done in the past," Jones said.

The comments came in a little-noticed interview with Der Spiegel, a German magazine, published over the weekend. Yesterday, Jones took the unusual step of publicly denying media reports that Obama was leaning towards a decision that would send between 34,000 and 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, numbers close to those requested by McChrystal.

SPIEGEL: The Obama administration is reviewing the strategy for Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is asking for additional troops.

Jones: Generals always ask for more troops. Take it from me.

To support his point, Jones pointed out that he asked for more troops when he was in Afghanistan earlier this decade. Of course, he conveniently elided the fact that most of generals with responsibility for Iraq in 2006 did not request more troops and opposed proposals for a troop surge.

SPIEGEL: And now you support General McChrystal's demand for 40,000 additional troops?

Jones: We are in the middle of a process with the president and all of his advisers in assessing the overall situation in Afghanistan. I believe we will not solve the problem with troops alone. The minimum number is important, of course. But there is no maximum number, however. And what's really important in Afghanistan is that with this new administration we insist on good governance, that it be coordinated with economic development and security, and that we have much, much better success at handing over responsibility for these three things to the Afghans.

Later, Jones said that the United States wanted to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible and suggested that adding troops was pointless.

SPIEGEL: Afghanistan is famously referred to as the "graveyard of empires."

Jones: I know and that's why I say we cannot solve the problems with only military forces. You can keep on putting troops in, and you could have 200,000 troops there and the country will swallow them up as it has done in the past. There are many empires who tried to make Afghanistan a stable and different country, and there have always been neighbors which were not interested in a stable and centralized government.

This is rather extraordinary. Before McChrystal was even chosen by the administration, Jones took Bob Woodward on a trip to Afghanistan and said to commanders there, on the record, that requests for more troops were not welcome.

Now, as Obama is considering McChrystal's request, Jones gives an interview in which he expresses deep skepticism of adding troops, saying, in effect, that more troops won't matter because the country will "swallow them up."

Does President Obama approve of Jones's comments? Will he be disciplined for talking out of school?

In early October McChrystal was scolded by Defense Secretary Robert Gates when the general answered a question about his assessment at a think tank in London. That the Pentagon had approved his appearance did not matter. McChrystal was told to keep his mouth shut. White House allies pounced on McChyrstal. Nancy Pelosi criticized McChrystal for speaking out, saying the he should "go up the line of command" with his views, not share them in public. Does she feel the same way about Jones?

What does President Obama think about his National Security Adviser thumbing the scales for retreat? Is Jones authorized to make such comments? If he is, why has McChrystal been muzzled? Is Jones foreshadowing a decision from the White House?