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Obama National Security Advisor: 'We’re Seeing Evolution' of Trump's 'America First' Policy

National Security Advisor Gen. James L. Jones in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Sept. 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – Gen. James L. Jones, Jr., national security advisor to President Obama, said he was “very proud” when President Clinton balanced the federal budget by cutting defense spending and warned about the U.S. debt-to-wealth ratio.

“I was a fairly senior military officer, and a large part of that budget-balancing act came at the expense of the Defense Department – but as an American, I was very proud of that,” Jones said at the Global Forum 2017 in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday. “I was very proud of the fact that we had a government that balanced the budget, but it hasn’t happened since then.”

Jones said one of the “real threats” to the U.S. economy is the “debt-to-wealth ratio” that “nobody” seems to be discussing publicly.

“That worries me a great deal because I think it affects everything we do,” said Jones. “I think trade and business is absolutely essential to our security, but if you don’t come to the party with your house in order you can’t achieve these lofty aspirations no matter who are you. And on that score, I think the United States still has a big problem.”

The U.S. national debt is $19.8 trillion. GDP was an estimated $19 trillion in the first quarter of 2017.

Jones, founder & president of Jones Group International, expressed concern with President Trump’s “America First” approach to foreign affairs.

“The welfare of the nation in the 21st century really also depends on the welfare of our friends and allies, so I think the political tone associated with ‘America First’ is not as inclusive as it should be,” he said. “But I think deep down inside everyone knows that if this is a retreat into isolationism that it’s a very bad thing for the United States in this globalized world, where in the 21st century so many more things come into play to affect our collective security.”

Jones cited NATO as an example of how Trump’s “America First” mantra could change over time. Jones pointed out that Trump criticized NATO in the presidential campaign but reaffirmed the U.S. government’s commitment to Article 5 in Poland.

“What is said in campaigns quite often doesn’t translate into actual policy, and I think that’s what we are seeing. We’re seeing evolution of a policy from a president who had previously not held office and who had very little political experience into, kind of, the world that we live, so I would expect and hope that that would continue to develop,” Jones said.

Jones said Trump’s speech in Warsaw was “good” from the standpoint of the Three Seas Initiative, which is composed of nations bordering the Adriatic, Baltic and Black seas.

“The Three Seas Initiative will transform and rebuild the entire region and ensure that your infrastructure, like your commitment to freedom and rule of law, binds you to all of Europe and, indeed, to the West,” Trump said.

Jones hopes “great integration” of the initiative will take place over the next year.

“We’ve been at this for several years. I’m delighted to hear the president of Romania has invited this conference to be held in Bucharest next year,” he said. “I hope by this time next year on the economic side of this project we can illustrate a great integration – not only in Europe but also from the United States in both the public and private sector domain.”

Jones emphasized that the public sector is “going to have to lead” in planting “seed money” in order for the Three Seas Initiative to succeed.

“The private sector is going to want to know a lot more than it does right now about the Three Seas Initiative and how the private sector can play in it, but I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to unify the transatlantic link, not just militarily, associated with NATO but also economically,” he said.

“In the Obama administration, there was a lot of enthusiasm for this project and I’m delighted to hear that in the Trump administration it looks like they’re even as equally interested, and by virtue of the statements today, very much behind it so that’s why I’m optimistic….The potential here is very high for greater integration of our societies and greater integration of our economies to the collective betterment of our future,” he added.