Donilon Tapped As Security Adviser After Jones Quits

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President Obama named Thomas Donilon as his new national security adviser today after Gen. James Jones quit the post.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

It's becoming a familiar scene at the White House. Another close adviser to President Obama is leaving his post less than two years into the president's term. Mr. Obama made the announcement today that his national security adviser, retired Marine General Jim Jones, is stepping down. His replacement is someone who rose through the political ranks not the military, Jones's deputy Tom Donilon.

President BARACK OBAMA: Tom has a wealth of experience that will serve him well in this new assignment. He has served three presidents and been immersed in our national security for decades. Over the last two years there's not a single critical national security issue that has not crossed Tom's desk.

SIEGEL: As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, Tom Donilon inherits a tough agenda from Jones, including what to do about the war in Afghanistan.�

TOM BOWMAN: Jim Jones brought more experience to that key White House post than most of his predecessors. He was a retired four star Marine general, who oversaw NATO forces and was deeply involved on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

But just a year into his tenure, Jones was criticized as too low-key in his job as national security adviser, the top White House executive who's supposed to be at the center of foreign policy decisions. And on the key national security issue of the Obama administration, the war in Afghanistan, Jones generally has received low marks.

Professor GRAHAM ALLISON (Harvard University): A disappointment.

BOWMAN: That's Graham Allison, a long-time�national security professor at Harvard University.

Prof. ALLISON: That decision process was broken in terms of, I think, first, the president's interests and objectives, but secondly the nation's interests.

BOWMAN: Jones never gave President Obama what he wanted, says Allison, a wider range of choices that included a more narrow mission for Afghanistan that didn't require tens of thousand of troops. Instead, the president last year was boxed in by his commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal: 40,000 more troops for a long-term counterinsurgency operation.

Prof. ALLISON: By the time he got that piece of paper, he only had two choices: One, to back up his commander, or alternatively, to back down.

BOWMAN: President Obama backed up his commander, sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Jones's supporters say he did represent the president's interests.�

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): Jim Jones is extremely intelligent and he's independent, and he will say it as he believes it.

BOWMAN: That's Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who chairs the Armed Services Committee. He brushed aside reports that some White House staffers often bypassed Jones to get to the president.

Senator LEVIN: If they try to go around him, it's because he's not somebody who's easily pushed around.

BOWMAN: Replacing Jones is his deputy, Tom Donilon, who has less experience than past national security advisers. But Donilon is considered close to the president.

Ms. KORI SCHAKE (National Security Council, Bush Administration): My sense is that Tom Donilon has a very good sense of the president's objectives and agenda and will be effective in that way.

BOWMAN: Kori Schake served on the National Security Council staff under President George W. Bush.

Ms. SCHAKE: But I also have the sense that the fundamental problem with the Obama administration's national security strategies are that the president's objectives don't match up with the resources - time, money, soldiers - that he's willing to put toward them.

BOWMAN: Former White House press secretary Mike McCurry, who served with Donilon at the State Department, says Donilon had to prove himself then, too, and immersed himself in the issues.

Mr. MIKE MCCURRY (Former Press Secretary, White House): Tom really has become an expert in foreign policy, but it's after a long and distinguished career being a political hack.

BOWMAN: But Donilon reportedly has caused some heartburn at the Pentagon. According to a book by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, Defense Secretary Robert Gates heard Donilon disparage a general and later said Donilon would be a disaster as national security adviser.�

McCurry thinks that's overblown.

Mr. MCCURRY: If�you look at what's truly happened, which is those entities working together more collaboratively than they have in a lot recent administrations.

BOWMAN: For his part, Secretary Gates put out this statement today: As I can attest from firsthand experience, Tom has been in one of the toughest jobs in Washington and done it well.

Tom Bowman. NPR News, Washington.

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