Departing National Security Adviser Leaves Mixed Reviews

There's been another major change at the White House this week. The president's national security adviser, retired Gen. Jim Jones, is leaving after fewer than two years on the job. He'll be replaced by his deputy, Tom Donilon. Host Scott Simon discusses the change with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

So the president's domestic agenda is jobs. The national security agenda: even more complicated.

President BARACK OBAMA: Since my administration took office, we have removed nearly 100,000 troops and ended our combat mission in Iraq. We've refocused on the war against al-Qaida and subjected its leadership to relentless pressure. We are pursuing a new strategy that finally devotes the resources we need in the fight against extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

SIMON: That was President Obama yesterday at the White House. He was introducing his new national security adviser, Tom Donilon. Mr. Donilon will replace Jim Jones, the retired Marine general. General Jones served less than two years as the president's top security adviser and has received mixed reviews for his performance. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us. Morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And did the general jump or was he pushed?

BOWMAN: Well, the sense all along was that Jones would be leaving in January. So this is, of course, a bit earlier than expected. But really for more than a year now there was speculation in Washington that Jones was on the outs with the White House. He didn't fit in, didn't work long hours, and also he, more importantly, didn't have the managerial skills for this job.

SIMON: So he was accused of being ineffective?

BOWMAN: That's right. That was the general sense. And at the Pentagon, they never really knew where he stood on the issue of more troops for Afghanistan. And of course it's Afghanistan and the military strategy and the troops that will be the defining issue of this presidency.

I spoke with Graham Allison, a long-time national security professor at Harvard University, yesterday and he summed up Jones this way. He said: a disappointment.

SIMON: In what sense? What was Mr. Allison suggesting General Jones should have done?

BOWMAN: Well, he said the job of national security adviser really is it manage things - manage foreign policy issues and crises. And the president, on Afghanistan, wanted more options. He clearly didn't want to send too many troops over there, and McChrystal, the general who was ground commander at the time, came back with a troop request of 40,000 more U.S. forces.

And that left President Obama in something of a box. You either support your commander on the ground or you do not, and that's not much of a choice. So there should have been more choices on, let's say, a smaller counterinsurgency effort with fewer troops. And again, that was his responsibility as national security adviser, to offer more options.

SIMON: Help us read the tea leaves on this, Tom. The appointment now of (clears throat) forgive me - Tom Donilon, is there any significance in a shift in this important job from someone who was a career military officer to someone who has never been in the military, near as I can tell, and is a well-known Washington, D.C. lawyer?

BOWMAN: No. I think that's less important than the fact that Tom Donilon is very, very close to the president. He knows what he wants. He knows a political side of this as well, which is very important. Donilon is a long-time Democratic strategist. And also the sense is that Donilon is a really good manager. I mean, he really can move the paper, they say, in Washington.

So I think those are important elements to remember here. But clearly he doesn't have a lot of military experience, and that's going to be a bit of a problem with the Pentagon.

SIMON: Which raises the question. Reportedly, Secretary Gates has said that -he said Tom Donilon would be a disaster in the job.

BOWMAN: That's right. That story has gone around. And Gates said yesterday at the Pentagon - he didn't look too happy - he said he can work closely with Donilon. But clearly there are tensions between what the White House wanted on Afghanistan and what the military was pushing. So Donilon is now in the middle of that.

And the next big test, of course, will come in December. There's going to be a review of the Afghan strategy. The sense is that there'll be some tweaking here. And even more important is next July. President says he wants troops to start coming home. But the sense is you're not going to see many troops come home and Donilon's going to have to manage this well into next year and beyond.

SIMON: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Scott.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.