The Meaning of National Security Adviser Jim Jones's Departure

How the White House will change

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White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones was always clear that he would leave his post before 2012. So when Jones announced his departure today, it wasn't a major surprise. But his departure is still a significant event for the White House, which has recently shed such high-profile members as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and economic adviser Larry Summers, and for U.S. national security policy. He will be replaced by Tom Donilon, his deputy. Here are the reactions to Jones's departure.

  • What Jones's Legacy Will Be  The Associated Press's Ben Feller writes, "White House aides say Jones put his stamp on Obama's major foreign policy decisions over the last 20 months, including a larger troop presence in Afghanistan, a winding down of the war in Iraq and a retooled relationship with Russia. Jones retained clout and contacts across the military after a career as a highly-decorated Marine. He retired as a four-star general, the highest grade currently in use. Jones' military career also gave him good access to foreign leaders, military chiefs and U.S. lawmakers. His role was sometimes described in business terms, as the closer. In essence, others might do a lot of legwork to get something the United States wanted, but Jones could pick up a telephone, call the right person, and bring the deal home."

  • It's Surprising He Lasted This Long  Foreign Policy's Peter Feaver muses on "how long this move has been anticipated by beltway insiders. General Jones is leaving, still leaving. Only a few months into the administration's tenure, and General Jones seemed to be on the chopping block. He survived another 16 months, but they were exceptionally stormy months with some serious missteps by the National Security Advisor. Moreover, the most important thing done on his watch - the Afghan Strategy Review 2.0 of the Fall 2009 -- has played to decidedly mixed reviews. ... He never seemed to master the most important part of the NSA job: cultivating a close working relationship with the boss."
  • What Could Change  The New York Times' David Sanger notes that Donilon differed from his boss in a few key areas. "As deputy national security adviser, Mr. Donilon has urged what he calls a 'rebalancing' of American foreign policy to rapidly disengage American forces in Iraq and to focus more on China, Iran and other emerging challenges. In the Afghanistan-Pakistan review, he argued that the United States could not engage in what he termed 'endless war,' and has strongly defended Mr. Obama’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan next summer."
  • Bob Woodward's Book Trashes Donilon  Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell wrote of the Woodward book on Obama administration national security, "Woodward's sources [in the White House] have a couple main beefs [with Tom Donilon, who will replace Jones]. The main one is that, for all his foreign-policy knowledge, Donilon doesn't understand the military, is often disrespectful toward top generals and Pentagon staffers, and makes snap judgments without considering all the options. [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates thinks Donilon would be a 'disaster' as national-security advisor, according to Woodward, who also writes that Jones would 'never in a million years' have made Donilon his deputy had he known how the White House dynamics would play out. ... It's also clear that Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, can't stand the guy."
  • Donilon's Big Advantage  Foreign Policy's Peter Feaver writes, "Jones successor, Tom Donilon, starts with an advantage Jones never had: Everyone believes him to be a close intimate of the president and of other White House powerbrokers. He also is an unabashed partisan, thus strengthening the White House's ties with the constituency most disappointed in Obama's foreign policy: the Democratic base. ... Whether Donilon can develop as strong a working relationship with Gates and with the senior brass as he has with President Obama and the political team will likely determine whether he is successful in his job."
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