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Security Adviser Pick Stresses Oil Independence

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

It's All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook. President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet is taking shape. The latest name, Eric Shinseki. He'll be Obama's choice for secretary of veterans' affairs. Before the Iraq war, Shinseki raised heckles in the Bush administration by saying hundreds of thousands of American troops would have to stay in post-war Iraq.

Another of Obama's top aides is a military stalwart, and he sees energy policy as one of the keys to national security. NPR's Scott Horsley has that story.

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SCOTT HORSLEY: When President-elect Barack Obama named James Jones to be his national security adviser this past week, he naturally talked about the retired marine general's battlefield experience and his record as supreme allied commander in Europe. He also singled out Jones' effort in another arena, working to reduce America's thirst for oil, much of which now comes from unstable or downright hostile parts of the globe.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Jim is focused on the threats of today and the future. He understands the connection between energy and national security.

HORSLEY: When Jones retired from the Marine Corps after 40 years in uniform, he helped start an energy institute to promote new supplies and greater efficiency. Like a lot of Americans, he was rudely awakened to America's vulnerability during the Arab oil embargo 35 years ago.

General JAMES JONES (Nominee for National Security Adviser): I remember in 1973 sitting in a Volkswagen Beetle. I was a captain in the Marine Corps trying to sit - I sat in a gas line in Springfield, Virginia trying to get enough gas at four o'clock in the morning to get to Quantico, Virginia so I get to class on time.

HORSLEY: At the time, Richard Nixon promised to wean the country off foreign oil. Every president since has done the same, even as imports have continued to grow. Jones says the nation hasn't made the kind of sustained effort needed to break its addiction to imported oil.

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General JONES: We have to approach this with the same degree of seriousness that we did when President Eisenhower said, let's build us a highway system, or President Kennedy said, let's go to the moon.

HORSLEY: Jones made those remarks last summer in Missouri in an appearance with Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. And some of his energy prescriptions sound more like McCain's than President-elect Obama's. Jones's institute, for example, called for expanded offshore oil drilling and a much greater emphasis on nuclear power. At the same time, the institute also stresses efficiency and environmental stewardship. Kateri Callahan, who heads the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, likes Jones' balanced approach.

Ms. KATERI CALLAHAN (President, Alliance to Save Energy): I'll put it very simply. We need to do it all. Mine as much as we can, if you will, out of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, but we also, at least for some period of time, continue to rely on carbon-based sources of energy and on nuclear power.

HORSLEY: Jones isn't the only high-ranking military man concerned about America's dependence on imported oil. Robbie Diamond runs a Washington group called Securing America's Future Energy, and many of his members are retired admirals or generals.

Mr. ROBBIE DIAMOND (Founder and President, Securing America's Future Energy): Our military is being strained more and more because of our dependence on oil. And at the same time, they're dealing more and more with bad actors in the world causing trouble because of their wealth from oil.

HORSLEY: Military planners are paid to think about those challenges, but Callahan says the rest of us tend to agitate about energy when gasoline prices are high but forget about the issue when they're not.

Ms. CALLAHAN: We vacillate in this country wildly between crisis and complacency when it comes to energy.

HORSLEY: Energy was a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign last summer, when gas prices topped four dollars a gallon. Now that prices are back down below two dollars a gallon, Callahan is counting on Jones and other top Obama aides, like Bill Richardson and Homeland Security's Janet Napolitano, to keep energy on the administration's front burner.

Ms. CALLAHAN: I don't think that it's just happenstance that Barack Obama has handpicked these people to be in his cabinet that have this kind of understanding of energy. I think it was very much something that he did with foresight and because he wants to make this a centerpiece of his administration.

HORSLEY: Callahan thinks it will be easier to maintain that focus on energy when it's seen as not just an economic necessity, but a national security asset, as well. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.