Obama chooses new national security adviser who has ‘no credibility with the military’

Undaunted by the revelations from Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, President Obama is replacing National Security Adviser Gen James Jones with his deputy, Tom Donilon.

Last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Donilon would be a “disaster” in that position and Jones said Donilon had “no credibility with the military.”

Was it Donilon’s performance as a vice president at Fannie Mae that impressed Obama?

If Obama is to be judged by those he surrounds himself with, it sure looks like he seeks the company of those who make him comfortable rather than those who appear most competent.

As reported by Woodward, the performance evaluation that Jones gave Donilon was pretty scathing:

First, he had never gone to Afghanistan or Iraq, or really left the office for a serious field trip. As a result, he said, you have no direct understanding of these places. “You have no credibility with the military.” You should go overseas. The White House, Situation Room, interagency byplay, as important as they are, are not everything.

Second, Jones continued, you frequently pop off with absolute declarations about places you’ve never been, leaders you’ve never met, or colleagues you work with. Gates had mentioned this to Jones, saying that Donilon’s sound-offs and strong spur-of-the-moment opinions, especially about one general, had offended him so much at an Oval Office meeting that he nearly walked out.

Third, he said, you have too little feel for the people who work day and night on the NSC staff, their salaries, their maternity leaves, their promotions, their family troubles, all the things a manager of people has to be tuned to. “Everything is about personal relations,” Jones said.

Update: Shoot-from-hip posts sometimes need revision. As others have pointed out, the criticisms of Donilon don’t necessarily put him in a negative light. My own snap judgement was largely based on a negative view of Jones and the expectation that his deputy was unlikely to outshine the general.

At Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin writes:

Immediate reaction within the administration to Jones’s resignation was consistent with the long-held view that Jones was never able to be effective as national security advisor because he was outside of Obama’s inner circle and was intellectually and sometimes physically cut out of major foreign policy discussions.

“Jones always carried an ’emeritus’ air about him and appeared removed and distant from the day-to-day operations,” one administration official told The Cable. “In six months, you will be hard pressed to find anyone in the administration who notices that Jones is no longer there.”

Emeritus is a polite way of saying unengaged. This was strikingly evident when he was the keynote speaker at the J Street conference last year.

So what about Donilon? Josh Rogin again:

According to all accounts, Donilon has been the machine running the NSC for some time, chairing the crucial deputies committee meetings and making the trains run on time throughout the NSC. But Donilon is not viewed as a strategic thinker along the lines of someone like former NSA Henry Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski.

“Donilon will represent continuity and I can’t see any major shifts in policy stemming from the changeover,” one administration source said.

On one major issue, Jones and Donilon seemed to agree. Donilon is skeptical about the prospects for success in Afghanistan, for reasons similar to Jones’s. Just after Obama announced the decision to add 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Donilon said to the NSC’s Gen. Doug Lute, “My god, what have we got this guy into?,” according to Woodward.

And there you have — horribly predictably — the illegitimate offspring of “change”: continuity.

Everything’s being going so stunningly well, who could dream of changing course?

But Obama will need someone who can inspire boldness if he’s going to find a way out of the Afghan labyrinth. I don’t see that a man whose chief virtue is that he knows how to keep operations running smoothly will have such a talent.

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4 thoughts on “Obama chooses new national security adviser who has ‘no credibility with the military’

  1. David

    The guy’s also a professional lobbyist. I thought Obama was going to keep these cockroaches out of his kitchen.

  2. Christopher Hoare

    “Everything is about personal relations,” Jones said.
    Sounds like a ‘scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ operation to me. The war-builders and the war-fighters have been a cosy little camp for a couple of generations.
    Looks like it could use an opinionated, blow-off-from-the-hip, guy to let a bit of daylight in.

  3. Mike

    Why is “no credibility with the military” such a bad thing? The military hasn’t earned much credibility either. We begin our tenth year in Afghanistan and control about 3% of the country. Our military doesn’t have much credibility with the Taliban even when we hire them through military contractors to guard our bases and supply convoys. It takes real genius to run a war this way.

  4. Renfro

    I don’t see how this can be good if the following is true and some background searches on Donilon indicate it is.


    “But the Pentagon’s strong preference for containment (of Iran) is opposed by
    powerful figures at the White House-“including Deputy National Security
    Adviser Tom Donilon and Senior Director for the ‘Central Region’ (including
    Iran) Dennis Ross.”
    The “senior officials” who leaked Gates’ memo “were clearly seeking to use their selective description to catalyze more robust planning for potential military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets. The very option that Gates has consistently opposed. This explains Gates’ public claim that his memo had been ‘mischaracterized’ by
    the leaker. It also explains Fluornoy’s later statement that an attack
    against Iran is ‘off the table in the near term.’ (Though, after White House
    intervention, Gates’ spokesman walked back Flournoy’s comment.)”

    Perhaps I am too cynical and inclined toward the devious but the US presence in Iraq and Afaghan has been one of the reasons an attack on Iran has been shunned by the military command. Some are saying that Donilon’s virtue is that he didn’t want to enlarge the Afaghan war…but I can see the neos and others pushing to get us out of those to open the way to war with Iran.
    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that it has been the Military, mainly the marines, army and navy command that has opposed attacking Iran, so getting rid of Jones imput isn’t good. And this also removes another official that believed that I/P was a major cause of US troubles and had to be settled.

    Also AIPAC calling Donilon a ‘friend’ of Israel and praising his appointment naturally makes me suspicous of his influence on Obama regarding I/P and the ME.

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