Departing National Security Adviser Leaves Mixed Reviews
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
So the president's domestic agenda is jobs. The national security agenda: even more complicated.
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.
U: a disappointment.
SIMON: In what sense? What was Mr. Allison suggesting General Jones should have done?
BOWMAN: 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: 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: 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.
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