Jones's Review of Donilon, in 2009

Another relevant passage from Bob Woodward's recent book, "Obama's Wars," in which National Security Advisor James Jones assesses Tom Donilon as his possible successor, reveals Donilon's strengths and weaknesses as seen by Jones around this time last year.


President Obama will announce today that Jones is resigning, to be replaced by Donilon as NSA.

From pages 199-200:

In good Marine Corps tradition, Jones believed that all key subordinates were entitled to a performance evaluation. He called Donilon into his office.

"I will leave at some point," Jones said, suggesting it might be sooner rather than later. He had always tried to set up a successor in his previous jobs, he said. "Maybe you're my replacement, maybe not," but let me give you my sense of where you stand, what you're doing right and what you may be doing wrong.

Jones praised his substantive and organizational skills, and told Donilon that he was indispensable to the president, the principals--including Jones--the whole interagency and NSC staff. But Donilon had made three mistakes. 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.

The conversation appears to have taken place in early October 2009, according to its situation in the book's chronology.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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