Today in European Spotlight, Stripes talks with Gen. James L. Jones, the top-ranking U.S. servicemember in Europe. Jonesworks out of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium:

What’s it like to work for [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld?

No complaints. I take strategic guidance and am left to do the best I can to implement that guidance. You can’t ask for more than that. [Rumsfeld] is fairly open. He’s not an unknown quantity. The secretary has been in office for more than five years. Obviously, he’s committed to the strong issues of our time. He’s a strategic thinker, he cares about the men and women who wear the uniform. Nobody works harder, and he’s got some very, very difficult problems to face. These problems are not for the faint of heart, and he’s not faint of heart. In that respect, we have good focus.

Do you follow sports? Who are your favorite teams?

In football, Washington Redskins. In baseball, Washington Nationals. In basketball, Georgetown University. I follow the Washington teams.

What about music?

I like all kinds of music. For country music, I’m a Toby Keith fan. There’s Toby Keith, and there’s everybody else. I grew up during the rock-and-roll era, from Bill Haley and the Comets forward. I liked that kind of music and still do. I like classical music. I listen to a lot of music.

Did you worry about your son when he was deployed?

I did very much. My son [Greg] is now a captain in the Marine Corps, stationed back in United States. He had two tours in Iraq. He was where the rubber meets the road; he was in the rifle company level. That was probably one of the biggest adjustments in my life. Seeing my son go off to a conflict, where all my life I was the one who always went. That was difficult.

Tell me about riding your bicycle to work.

It’s an absolutely essential part of my day. It’s mind-clearing, invigorating. I get to go out and pedal through the countryside in the early morning hours, and see life come back and rejuvenate every day as the sun is coming out.

What can our continent learn from the European continent?

One of the things I value in my professional relations is civility. I recently had lunch with Cardinal [Theodore E.] McCarrick, who is somebody I admire very much. We talked a little bit about the decline of civility in general. He’s making that a major thing in his sermons. Whether you are in Europe or the United States, I would like to see little more civility return to our dialogue. It seems that everything is much too personal. We are all patriotic. We all care about our country. I’m not sure that the rhetoric needs to rise to the crescendo it frequently does.

Supreme Allied Commander. Do you ever wake up and think, “There’s no one above me?”

This is a title that would lead one to believe a lot of things that are untrue. One of the things I spend most of my time doing is building consensus. You do not lead by fiat here. This great respect accorded to the title … but no one should think you just sit here say, ‘move left, move right, do this, do that,’ and it’s done. You have to build consensus and that’s hard work. I finding myself frequently pleading for three or four helicopters to send to Afghanistan, for example, and if 26 nations don’t want to give you three helicopters, you’re not going to get three helicopters. … It’s a great title, but there’s a lot of work that goes along with it, and it’s really work that is done at the grassroots level to try to generate the forces to do the missions you’ve been asked to do.

Interview conducted by Charlie Coon.

James L. Jones

Age: 61

Titles: Marine general; supreme allied commander, Europe; commander, U.S. European Command

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