An Interview with Stuart E. Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Jordan
Stuart E. Jones, a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, was sworn in as the United States Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on July 21, 2011. He previously served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Baghdad. From 2008-2010, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. From 2005-2008, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Ambassador Jones has also served as Governorate Coordinator in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, and as Country Director for Iraq at the National Security Council. From 1994–1996, he was special assistant to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. His other foreign tours include Turkey, El Salvador and Colombia. Jones is a graduate of Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
The Politic: Mr. Ambassador, why did you join the Foreign Service?
I took the exam when I was in Law School, and I did it on a lark. I had always had it in mind, and my grandfather was a Foreign Service Officer. One of my friends was taking the exam, and she said, “Why don’t we take it together?” We took the exam, and lo and behold, I passed. After Law School I traveled around Latin America, and I really enjoyed it. I realized that I didn’t want to just go to these places on vacation; I wanted to live there and understand what was going on. That is what really lit the fire.
The Politic: Do you have any advice for someone who may be considering a career in Foreign Service?
The most important thing for people who are looking into the Foreign Service is to prepare yourself with hard languages. This is different from when I entered. Frankly, like many things in life, everything has become more competitive. When I was coming up, you didn’t need to show a language to get in, and technically you still do not, but there is a preference for those people who have proven proficiency in hard languages like Arabic, Hindi, Russian, Turkish, Japanese, Chinese, and a few others. The State Department rewards you more for language proficiency than for higher education. If you’re going to go spend $60,000 on a Masters, take that money and go to Oman and learn Arabic or go to Beijing and learn Chinese. It is the languages that we are prizing right now in our admissions process.
The Politic: Do you speak Arabic?
I do not. I came to the Middle East late in my career. I had been in Latin America, Europe and Turkey, and then I came to Iraq in 2004 at a stage in my life where I was not interested in learning more languages. However, the work in Iraq lead from one thing to another including the National Security staff and that lead to Cairo, which resulted in other things and eventually I was stationed here in Amman.
The Politic: You mentioned a few of the posts that you have held here in the Middle East: Deputy Chief of Mission in Iraq, Deputy Chief of Mission in Egypt, and working in Turkey as well. Were there any lessons that you learned serving around the Middle East that have helped you here?
A lot of the themes and issues are universal. Obviously our policy in the region is aimed at stability – whether that be here or in Egypt or in Iraq or Turkey. A lot of the principles and a lot of the players are the same. It has been a tremendous opportunity for me to be able to learn and interact with these fascinating leaders, to learn how the United States is perceived, and to learn ways to try to explain U.S. policies.
The Politic: In your current capacity as Ambassador, is there a single thing that you have found most surprising or unexpected?
I am not surprised, but I think Americans would be surprised that although many Arabs from this part of the world disagree with U.S. policies, there is much that they admire about U.S. culture, U.S. technology, and U.S. business. Although on certain policy issues it is very hard to make headway and to change people’s minds, there are many areas where we can communicate very effectively. You are familiar with President Obama’s 2009 Cairo Speech where he talks about the importance of entrepreneurialism and private sector activity and civil society. At that level, we are doing very well out here. There is a lot of excitement for entrepreneurialism. There is a lot of excitement for U.S. technology. I find that that is a very good medium for communication.
The Politic: On a final note about a career in the Foreign Service — has there been a single person, experience or event that has influenced one or more of your policies?
In terms of my career, there is no single thing; however, one of the great privileges of my career has been working closely with his Majesty King Abdullah. His Majesty has fostered a vision for integration of an Arab identity into the greater world while collaborating with the United States and other interested countries to foster stability. He has consistently been a voice for peace on the Israeli-Palestinian front. He has been a very moderate voice on the Syria issue. He was the first Arab leader to encourage Bashar to step down. Working with him has been a distinct honor, and he truly is a man of vision and also a leader who listens to his people, which has enabled him to navigate this Arab Spring and to maintain a very enviable stability here in Jordan.
The Politic: Let’s transition from a career in the Foreign Service to more policy questions related to your job on a daily basis. U.S. Embassy Amman is one of the larger Embassies in the world. Could you talk a little about the geopolitical significance of Jordan for the United States?
Jordan is smack-dab in the middle of the Middle East. It borders Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. It has a very central location. It has also been — going back fifty years — a very close partner of the United States,
and the United States is very proud of our partnership with Jordan. It’s an economic partnership. It is a security partnership. It is a business partnership; we have the free-trade agreement which has created 50,000 jobs in this country and has also created tremendous economic benefits in the United States. The security relationship has saved lives in Jordan and has saved lives in the United States. It is a very important partnership, and the reason it is a big embassy is because the partnership is so multi-faceted. We have U.S. military advisors here who are working in programs that help support the Jordanian military. We have USAID, which has a large mission here that is carrying out economic development programs. We have the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which is doing a ground-breaking water treatment project in Zarka, which is going to improve the lives of the people in Zarqa and the quality of water here in Amman. We are operating in many different spheres, which is largely why it is such a big embassy because those programs require personnel.
The Politic: Staying with the topic of U.S. Embassy Amman, I was struck when I walked in here that it felt somewhat like a fortress; there was very high security. We have seen Embassies across the Middle East — especially given the recent attacks in Benghazi and similar threats in Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere — that there are trends of moving towards a fortress-embassy mentality. How does one balance the need for security in an embassy with the equally important necessity of weaving into the fabric of society?
That is a really important question. First, I think it is very important to distinguish Jordan from some of the other examples that you gave. During the darkest days of the Arab Spring, this embassy never came under attack, and we always have had a very positive security partnership with Jordanian public security and with the Gendarmerie. It is true that the perimeter of the embassy is foreboding; you are absolutely right and I don’t disagree with what you are saying. However, that is to protect against terrorist attacks like car bombings like what we saw in Kenya that may slip through the web. We don’t have a problem here in terms of mob violence against this embassy like what you saw in other places such as Tunisia for example.
The other thing is that there is nothing in Jordan that is keeping us from getting outside of the walls. It is true that I see some people here, but most of the people I meet are outside of the embassy. I go see government officials in their offices, I go see businessmen in their offices, I go to Irbid, Zarqa, Akkaba, and all sorts of places to explain our policies, our programs and to learn what is going on here. That is true of my colleagues in the Public Diplomacy section; it is true of our political officers, our economic officers, and our AID officers. Nothing is stopping us from inviting people in, and nothing is stopping us from going out.
The Politic: Transitioning to the ongoing crisis in Syria, could you talk about the significance of Jordan particularly as a staging ground for American activities?
His Majesty was one of the first leaders to encourage Bashar to step down. In fact, he said, “If it were me, I would step down.” However, Jordan has adopted a neutral posture towards Syria and a posture of humanitarian
support to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who are streaming out of Syria to avoid strife, starvation and deprivation. Jordan is playing this absolutely central humanitarian role. It is an invaluable humanitarian role. 550,000 refugees are in the country now, and frankly, the international community hasn’t stepped up to compensate Jordan on the scale that is required. The United States as you would expect is the number one humanitarian donor. We have given over $810 million to humanitarian organizations in the region. On top of our bilateral programs here in Jordan, we have given over $380 million bilaterally directly to support the relief effort for the Syrian refugees. We have been massively involved, but the international community needs to do more, and frankly, we need to do more because this isn’t a burden that Jordan should be expected to carry on its own.
The Politic: Following up on the note of Syrian refugees, you mention the figure of 550,000 within Jordan’s borders. Where is that burden felt most in this country of 6 million?
That’s a great question. Of the 550,000, maybe 120,000 are in the Zaatar refugee camp in northern Jordan. Then there are a few thousand in a few other camps. Around 400,000 refugees are outside of the camps. They are largely in northern Jordan, which is one of the most water-deprived areas of a very water-deprived country. They have also drifted down to the other cities. They are very represented in Mafraq, which is the city closest to the border. They are very well represented in Irbid, but they are also represented here in Amman, in Tafilah and some of the southern cities too. Mostly in the north is where the greatest burden is, and that is putting tremendous pressure on the infrastructure there: the water infrastructure, the health infrastructure, the health infrastructure. All of a sudden those institutions have to cope with a huge influx of people that they didn’t have to worry about two years ago.
The Politic: Returning to this conversation of U.S. foreign aid, Jordan is one of the top-ten recipients of U.S. foreign aid, receiving over half a billion dollars every year. Aside from addressing the refugee situation, how else is this aid used?
As a result of the humanitarian role that we are playing, we are now giving Jordan over a billion dollars every year. Some of that is directed specifically at the refugee crisis, but there is $660 million that is either USAID money, which is $360 million in AID money and $300 million in military assistance. The military assistance is going for training and equipping the Jordanian military. That is a collaborative program — the Foreign Military Sales Program where the Jordanians and we sit down, we consult, they tell us what they want, and we try to provide. Several of those programs are multi-year programs.
Similarly, the USAID programs are in virtually every important development sector in Jordan. We are in education. We have renovated over a hundred schools here in Jordan, and we have built 28 schools. We are in the health sector. We have been building numerous neonatal and maternity wards. Last week I was down in the Jordan Valley, and I inaugurated a new emergency room in the hospital there, but we also had provided the maternity and neonatal ward last year. We have literally doubled the chances for infants to survive in that hospital.
We’re also involved in water systems. We have done significant infrastructure projects here in Jordan in terms of water treatment and in terms of upgrading the piping system. We have provided a lot of expertise on water. Aside from USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation has a $275 million project in Zarka that is upgrading the water treatment plant there and is also upgrading the entire water supply system underground to reduce the loss of water. That will be a tremendous boost to the water supply in Jordan because it will make the wastewater process better, cleaner, and more efficient so that that water can be re-used more effectively, and it will also ensure that the water-delivery system is not cracked and broken so we don’t lose water through leakage.
We’re also involved in economic growth programs. We are investing in supporting the Jordanian private sector through a series of programs to promote entrepreneurialism and microenterprise. We are very tied into the technology sector. I am very proud of our support for Oasis 500, which is a technology company incubator. We are very involved in all of those programs. The money goes quite a long way.
The Politic: Rounding out this conversation of foreign aid, whether it be economic development, military assistance, or community outreach through teaching English, is there any specific program that you think does the most good in terms of promoting the American image in Jordan?
I know that the public reacts very positively when we inaugurate these hospitals and when we can show that we are having an effect on saving lives. Our outreach to youth programs like the English language programs are also extremely popular and very positive. I think many Jordanians have a healthy skepticism of the impact that AID is having in their country. They know that a lot of money is coming in, and they want to see the benefit. I think we are doing a very good job of explaining the details of what the impact is — how we are expanding the water supply in Jordan, how we are improving health care, how we are renovating schools and making schools better equipped for modern challenges. I think we are identifiable with all of these things.
The Politic: Are there misconceptions that Jordanians have of Americans or vice-versa?
There are a few, but the most damaging and the most pernicious is that many Jordanians think that Americans are intolerant of Islam. You and I know that is not true. Most Americans respect the freedom of religion; that is a core principle of our nation. However, because of the images that come out of our media and our cinema about Islam and about Arabs, I think many Arabs feel that we don’t respect their culture and we don’t respect their faith. We spend a lot of time trying to reassure them that we do, because we do.
The Politic: Transitioning to Israel and the Middle East peace process, particularly given the tumultuous political situation in Egypt, Jordan is probably the strongest and most stable supporter in terms of the peace process and the state of Israel. Could you talk a little about the development of the Jordanian-Israeli relationship and Jordan’s role in facilitating this peace process?
His Majesty King Abdullah has been a consistent champion of the peace process. Even when others have not been working on the peace process, the King has always insisted that this needed to be on the agenda. He has been tenacious. The fact now that Secretary Kerry has been here four times in his first six months as Secretary of State I think is a credit to the close partnership that we feel with the Kingdom on the peace process. We share the vision for a two-state solution. We share an understanding of the problems and the pitfalls. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who is a really gifted and brilliant diplomat, is working closely with Secretary Kerry on this process. I hope and I believe that the Secretary will create progress very soon in the coming weeks. If progress is achieved, then Jordan will certainly deserve a significant share of the credit.
The Politic: On the same note of Israel and Palestine, roughly 50 percent of Jordan’s population is Palestinian. Can you talk about where this demographic dynamic is felt most in the country?
No one is sure exactly what the percentages are, but certainly other people have used those numbers so it is not important to dispute them. There are a lot of Palestinians living in Jordan who left either the West Bank or Gaza or Israel under difficult circumstances, some of them many years ago and others more recently. Now many of those Palestinian families are part of the fabric of Jordanian society. They participate in business, government, politics, and it is part of what has become Jordan. I find it very difficult to identify who is who. Maybe if you are Jordanian or if you are Palestinian you can do it, but I just see the two sides as quite integrated and complementary.
Clearly, the United States needs to have an effective representation abroad. Many of my colleagues like to complain that we do not have the resources we need to carry that message and that we don’t have the personnel. There is the old thing about how there are more personnel in military bands than there are Foreign Service officers. Most Americans probably don’t realize what a small cadre the Foreign Service is. I think that we are getting the job done. I think we have evolved. We have recognized the need to have more people who are proficient in languages. We are constantly updating the skill set.
Looking at our experience in Jordan, I think one of the things that needs to continue is that we need to continue to help USAID develop its cadre because for many years AID was left as a sort of step-child. That is not true today, but important years were lost in terms of career development and staffing of USAID, so I would like to see that group fortified. I’m not saying anything to you that I have not said to USAID colleagues or that they haven’t said to me. I think this is something we all share. Our job is to go out and support the foreign policy of the United States. When the president sets the policy, that is what we do. We are not unquestioning, but once the policy is set, we carry it out to the best of our abilities. I think that service discipline is a tremendous asset to the United States government, and it is terribly important that although times change and institutions evolve, that that discipline be sustained.
Embassy of the United States to Jordan:http://jordan.usembassy.gov