Gen. James L. Jones is the first U.S. Marine to serve as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Having grown up in France, where his father worked for an American company after WWII, he has a keen sense of Continental sensitivities, especially as NATO tries to address the demands of new regional and global threats. Jones sat down last week with NEWSWEEK’s Christopher Dickey for an exclusive interview. Excerpts:

DICKEY: What do you make of the rift between the United States and France?
JONES: It saddens me, to be honest with you. I grew up in both cultures. I identify with what France went through in the difficult times of Algeria, of Indochina, the postwar reconstruction, which I lived through starting in 1947. I remember the big green buses with the white stars driving all over Paris—only Americans could get on those buses. It was possible for American families to come and be stationed in France and never speak French, or never even have contact with French culture. I think that created perceptions and divisions that perhaps contributed to the state of affairs—I don’t know what it is. But I regret it, and I can tell you that at the military level it does not exist.

Some Americans call the French “surrender monkeys.”
France has probably the most expeditionary army [i.e., ready to deploy to distant battlefields] in Europe. And writ large. They have impressive military capabilities across the whole spectrum of operations. They’re good at peacekeeping; their Air Force is modern, state of the art; their Navy is modern; their land Army I know about because I served with them in northern Iraq 11 years ago, and I know their generals—this is a very, very fine army.

How is NATO evolving to meet new threats?
The center of gravity for the last 50 years in the alliance has been in Western Europe, but the center of activity is, in my perspective, moving east, and I think it’s not an understatement to say that the geo-strategic center of interest for the foreseeable future has to be the greater Middle East. And therefore the U.S. footprint [deployment] legitimately has to adjust to be as supportive as possible. There’s also an emerging concern, not only for the alliance but for the United States, to our south. Africa is replete with ungoverned spaces for attracting the merchants of terrorism, radical fundamentalism, weapons of mass destruction and all kinds of criminality, and I think we’re going to see more of that.

You’ve talked about something called “forward operating locations.”
Bare-bones footprints with dirt strips and very low-level maintenance, but strategically in place. As you might imagine, a lot of those would be perhaps somewhere in Africa and the like. They have been called “lily pads.” That’s not a bad visual term to explain the concept, as opposed to the massive, fixed base of the 20th century.

You won a Silver Star in Vietnam. Are you concerned Iraq might go in that direction?
Not yet. [Shakes his head no.]