When it comes to politics, there's no doubt where John Adams stands. The retired Brigadier General kept his views to himself during his 30 years of service in the United States military, but now that he's free to share his political views, he does so with conviction and thoughtfulness. One look at his Facebook profile tells you all you need to know: in the space reserved for political views, Adams lists his very simply: 'Obaman.'
Adams served as an Obama delegate representing Arizona at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and was seen my millions of viewers discussing his support in Obama's 30 minute infomercial which aired in late October.
He's met with Obama twice to discuss foreign policy and defense issues, "a great privilege," Adams said; he doesn't hide his admiration for the President Elect.
"He's a visionary... he's willing to step back and take the long view. For Obama, U.S. foreign policy isn't about ideology, it's about strategy."
And for Adams, based on his long years of experience which concluded with his position as Deputy U.S. Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee, a break from ideology is exactly what this country needs right now, especially in its Commander in Chief.
Ticking off points on his fingers, Adams listed some of the traits he believes will make Obama an effective foreign policy leader: "He listens. He's got the self confidence to know what he knows and, just as important, what he doesn't know. He does his homework and knows his stuff. He's extremely smart." And, Adams said forcefully, "he wants to hear candid opinions. He values honesty."
During the campaign Obama often said he wanted to hear different opinions than his own, and Adams attested to the truth behind that statement.
In the meetings I attended, Obama asked probing questions and expected, and got, candid responses. There was never a sense that you had to hold anything back. Quite the opposite.
Being a longtime military man, Adams understands the qualities that make an effective leader, and sees those qualities in the President Elect: in way of an example, Adams related his experience as one of 35 retired generals and admirals who met with Obama during the campaign.
This was a room full of four star generals, and folks who became corporate CEO's when they retired-there were some huge egos in that room, there's no other way of saying it. But Obama was clearly in charge. You knew it the minute he walked in. Every person in that room could see they were dealing with a man of substance. He has a powerful presence.
Calling Obama a pragmatist in the most complimentary sense, Adams described Obama's interaction with the distinguished people in the room.
He spoke maybe a quarter of the time, mostly asking questions. Otherwise we did the talking, and Obama started us off by saying,"You guys tell me about the issues you know. Let me handle the politics."
In contrast to what he sees ahead, Adams discussed what he's experienced in the past. He admired William Perry, Defense Secretary under Bill Clinton. Echoing what he said about Obama, Adams said he admired Perry's intelligence and willingness to take the long view. "Perry focused on strategy. He was very good at understanding people, programs and issues". At one point during his career Adams served as military attaché to South Korea, and recalled that in 2003 Perry, no longer Defense Secretary, came to Korea to see if he could help get discussions concerning North Korea's possible nuclear weapons program back on track. Perry had to intervene, Adams continued, because of the actions of the Bush administration.
The reason Perry had to try and help was because after John Bolton went to North Korea in September 2002 we had NO dialogue. Nothing. Bolton made the situation worse.
Bolton was not the only Bush administration appointment that Adams did not agree with and felt did real harm to U.S. foreign policy. Adams described the embarrassment he felt while attending the 2006 NATO Summit: "Donald Rumsfeld had walked off the job. There we were at the NATO Summit, trying to do business with no Secretary of Defense." It was, he said quietly, "tough." As critical as Adams was of Rumsfeld and Bolton, he was less so of current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, saying simply:
"He's done a good job, and he doesn't appear to be partisan."
As a Foreign Service Officer, Military Intelligence Officer and Army aviator, Adams spent his more than 30 years of service in command and staff assignments in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Such an extensive background gives the much-decorated retired brigadier general an understanding of the enormity of the issues facing President-Elect Obama, and while he made it clear he was in no position to advise the future president, he offered opinions on some of the issues he viewed as key to our country's foreign policy, and important for our country's national security:
What's the popular phrase, keeping it real? That's what we have to do; we have to keep it real. Russia knows they have a lot to gain from working with the United States, and a lot to lose from not working with the United States. We have to be candid about that, and not allow false issues to get in between the real issues we need to be working on; they don't want terrorist states on their southern border, and they're no more supportive of Al-Qaeda than we are. We have to engage, and we have to listen.
On the Bush Doctrine:
I think history will help resolve this one. The Bush Doctrine is an aberration in what has been a fairly consistent foreign policy for the last 200 years. The notion of unilateral military action and preemptive attacks on countries that might be our enemy...no country can sustain that. There are so many more practical and effective ways that we can deal with our opponents.
Obama's been very clear about what he wants to do there, and I agree with him. Close it. Stroke of the pen, no reason to delay. It strains our credibility internationally.
But it's in the vastly different styles of the outgoing and incoming administration that Adams anticipates some of the most welcome changes in terms of foreign policy. Rhetoric, Adams continued, has been the forte of this administration, and he told me a story of how it affected him. While serving in the Office of Defense at the Pentagon between 2001 and 2002, Adams wrote a number of documents concerning European strategy. Whenever he used the word 'engagement' in those documents, or the words 'engage' or 'engagement' in the context of foreign relations, he would receive the documents back with those word stricken. The substitute? Security cooperation.
"Every single time, the concept of engagement was replaced with the concept of security cooperation," Adams recalled with a shake of the head.
It was clear that these were words the leadership did not want us to use. To me, that signaled a major departure from the approach under the previous Clinton administration. Now you could say it was just rhetoric, but it was more than that. It was a signal we were sending out the world, and I couldn't help but wonder why? What's wrong with the word engagement?
John Adams believes the Obama administration will mean a return to the concept of engagement, and that Obama himself will lead by example.
I've never had as much trust in someone as I do in Barack Obama,
said the retired Brigadier General.
We are incredibly lucky to have him as president.