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Mr. Jones responded to that criticism by saying on CNN, “The strategy does not belong to any political party, and I can assure you that the president of the United States is not playing to any political base. And I take exception to that remark.”

Mr. McCain did not back off his criticism, saying the next day on “Imus in the Morning” that Mr. Jones had been wrong on troop levels in Iraq in 2007.

In September 2007, Mr. Jones led a study that called for withdrawing forces, effectively ending President Bush’s troop surge. “Significant reductions, consolidations, and realignments would appear to be possible and prudent,” that report concluded.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat Nevada, cited the Jones report as evidence that the troop surge had failed.

“It is discouraging that the president stubbornly claims his failed policy is working even as this latest report describes many Iraqi security forces as focused more on fostering civil war than on suppressing it,” he said.

The administration continued the surge in spite of Mr. Jones’ advice. A year later, violence in Iraq decreased significantly amid a general consensus that the new strategy had worked.

Mr. McCain also has charged that Mr. Jones was taking too long to coordinate a decision on more troops for Afghanistan.

“This is the strategy that will succeed,” he said of the McChrystal plan. “It’s a counterinsurgency strategy. A kind that worked in Iraq, adjusted to the different situation and conditions in Afghanistan. We can and will - we can and must succeed there. And the longer we wait, the weeks, then the longer it takes for us to get the much-needed help over there.”

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel, author and military analyst, said he thinks Mr. Jones is fulfilling his role as national security adviser by providing a variety of options.

“James Jones is not someone who just fell off the turnip truck,” Mr. Allard said. “He has combat experience, a lot of it. He was commandant of the Marine Corps. He’s been NATO commander. So, he’s probably the most experienced member of that Obama team from an operational and national security standpoint.

“And so I think any criticism of him would have to be premature at best. Let’s see how this thing plays out. Until then, I don’t know how you can judge. I think he is superb from what I’ve seen of him. To this point, I think he’s doing a fine job.”

In late 2006, Mr. Jones was wrapping up a three-year stint as the first Marine to head NATO, which had assumed major command status in Afghanistan. The debate then was much as it is now. The Taliban had made deep inroads in the south, and the Bush administration was being pressed to increase troop levels. NATO then launched a major offensive to clear villages around the Taliban spiritual capital of Kandahar.

Mr. Jones appeared at the Pentagon to deliver a relatively upbeat message.

“I think [the Taliban] are probably doing some severe analysis about their tactics and what they chose,” he said. “Where they’ll reappear, I don’t know. There’s no doubt in my mind that with the coalition and [international] forces, that we have enough troop strength to counter anything they want to throw at us.”

A little more than a year later, he headed the study group that called for more troops.

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