This just arrived from another reader. Thank you. I post it here to provide elaboration and some interesting comments. The link to the original article is at the bottom, after the comments. -GFS
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Jones’ Legacy: Adult Supervision Or A General Marginalized?
By James Kitfield
President Obama’s announcement Friday that national security adviser James Jones would leave his post by the end of the month, to be replaced by senior deputy Thomas Donilon, signaled the end of an important chapter in the Obama presidency. Most importantly, Jones oversaw development of last year’s Afghan strategy and troop “surge.” He also helped manage a full national security docket that included a tricky withdrawal of forces from Iraq; a looming showdown with Iran; a reset in relations with Russia; tensions with China, North Korea, and Pakistan; a stalled Middle East peace process; and near-constant reports of terrorist plots aimed at the United States.
The question this week is whether Jones’s legacy will ultimately be viewed as positive or negative. As a former four-star general, Marine Corps commandant, and supreme commander of NATO, did Jones smoothly manage relations between the White House and the U.S. military in a time of war and crisis? Did he supply the “adult supervision” of Obama’s close coterie of political aides that some saw as his most important role? How successful was Jones in coaxing coordinated action out of the many agencies involved in national security? Was he a valued confidant of the president, or marginalized by lower-ranking deputies, as some news reports have claimed?
Finally, how might national security policy and execution change under Tom Donilon, if at all? Can Donilon work closely with Defense Secretary Robert Gates after the two clashed so famously over Afghan policy, especially as a critical period in the Afghan war approaches with Gen. David Petraeus’s December review? Will Donilon’s close relationship with Vice President Joe Biden, another skeptic of the Afghan surge, create a block within the White House that favors an early exit from Afghanistan next July? In short, what, if anything, is signified by this change in the critical NSA job?
Responses October 12, 2010-
· What’s a Donilon?
By Col. W. Patrick Lang
I have heard his name and that of McDonough whispered in circles critical of President Obama. The whispering has been more or less continuous. “Political.” “Militarily ignorant.” “Brash.” etc. I have no idea what this man is about, except that he supposedly talked too much for General Jones’ taste. I suspect that would not be difficult to do. Also, he apparently favored a smaller, more focused approach in Afghanistan, one devoid of messianism and nation state creation. If that is so, than his promotion can be seen as a search by Obama for a more balanced group of subordinates.
Yes. It is true. Petraeus is Obama’s subordinate and serves at the president’s pleasure. Woodward writes that Powell told Obama that “there are other generals.” Woodward is always right, so, one can only say that this was a profound piece of advice and one that Petraeus might be glad of at some point.
This is a bit like Kremlinology in the bad old days, and a similar speculation is reflected in the comments here thus far.
Bottom Line: Who knows what this means? Only Bob Woodward knows.
· Good luck, Mr. Donilon.
By Paul Sullivan
Professor of Economics, National Defense University
General Jones is a great American, was a superior general, and was a leader of leaders. What happened behind the closed doors of the NSC may not be known for decades and it is not for me to speculate. However, it does seem to me that political savvy has been replaced by strategic savvy and gravitas. The NSA should be focused on strategy for the sake of the national security and national interests of the country, not just for the President and party. I wish Mr. Donilon well. He will need a lot of luck and excellent staffing and leadership to handle the many crises and challenges this country faces. I truly hope he sees the very big pictures out there in this fluid and dangerous world. I also hope he sees the great opportunities this country has for doing good and building up our reputation in the world. We can be tough, but we can also be smart.
· JONES to DONILON to OBAMA
By Michael Brenner
Professor of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh
The essential job of the National Security Advisor is to act as custodian of the policy process – to ensure its procedural integrity. Responsible decisions depend on coherent deliberations that are intellectually honest. Honesty in a careful vetting of information, in making explicit premises and assumptions, in laying out all reasonable alternatives along with their benefit/cost/risks. To do this formidable job effectively, the NSA ideally should combine intelligence, knowledgeable understanding of foreign policy issues and also a measure of dispassion. For advancing his own views can jeopardize his main function. The other key is a good working relationship with the president whom he serves. The president must see the need to have a custodian, and then must pick some one he trusts. Otherwise, who holds the post is of secondary importance. The Bush the Elder/Scowcroft relationship stands as one model for an effective partnership.
Perhaps the NSA’s most delicate assignment is protecting the president from himself. That means two things. First, to curb impulsiv…
· The essential job of the National Security Advisor is to act as custodian of the policy process – to ensure its procedural integrity. Responsible decisions depend on coherent deliberations that are intellectually honest. Honesty in a careful vetting of information, in making explicit premises and assumptions, in laying out all reasonable alternatives along with their benefit/cost/risks. To do this formidable job effectively, the NSA ideally should combine intelligence, knowledgeable understanding of foreign policy issues and also a measure of dispassion. For advancing his own views can jeopardize his main function. The other key is a good working relationship with the president whom he serves. The president must see the need to have a custodian, and then must pick some one he trusts. Otherwise, who holds the post is of secondary importance. The Bush the Elder/Scowcroft relationship stands as one model for an effective partnership.
Perhaps the NSA’s most delicate assignment is protecting the president from himself. That means two things. First, to curb impulsive action – whether it emerges from personality, pet ideas, or a combination. This is of little concern in the Obama White House since Obama has no fixed ideas in the foreign policy realm and, in any case, is an ultra cautious person. Second, there is the obligation to protect the President’s thinking from being captured by powerful persons, cliques or dogmas. Obama’s instinctive respect for all established forces has made him singularly vulnerable to capture. Indeed, on Afghanistan he fell victim to the Pentagon phalanx of Gates, Petraeus, Mullen and McChrystal who imposed their mindset on him in last year’s review. The graphic account offered by Bob Woodward shows that General James Jones lacked the force of personality and/or privileged access to Obama to prevent that from happening – even if he was so inclined. There is no sign, for example, that he advised Obama to make use of Ambassador (General) Karl Eikenberry’s deep seated skepticism about our purposes in Afghanistan by forcing the quartet of military hawks to address his challenge directly. Similarly, Jones has not steered the President off the suicidal diplomatic course of groveling before Bibi Netanyahu in ways that have cut the ground from under the United States’ standing in the region. On this matter, the powerful forces are the Israel lobby and its tribunes inside the White House – Emanuel, Ross, Axelrod – along with Biden and Hillary Clinton.
When set in this context, the transition from Jones to Donilon is unlikely to change anything of paramount importance. Thomas Donilon is not an ideas man at a time when a fresh strategic perspective is the sine qua non for breaking from our self destructive behavior pattern on Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine and in the pervasive ‘war on terror’ generally. True, he evidently shares Biden’s qualms about forging blindly ahead in AfPak. We should bear in mind, though, that the latter’s disagreement with the decision to escalate was mainly tactical. He preferred to keep our force levels constant while ratcheting up attacks on high value targets on both sides of the Durand line. Biden’s readiness to abandon the pretense of building a popular, democratic and competent regime in Kabul still left in place the critical judgment that we have vital interests at stake that we must persevere in pursuing indefinitely. Were Donilon’s promotion to reinforce that line, so much the better – relatively speaking. But the only way out of the quagmire requires a critical rethink of the fundamentals. At the end of the day, only the President can provide the impetus to insist upon such a root-and-branch review. Only the President has the power to impose it on his stiff necked Generals and Admirals, on Robert Gates – their godfather, on his equally hawkish Secretary of State, and on his own unheroic self.
One last point. A serious liability of this administration’s foreign policy is its utter disregard for the thinking and concerns of those in the region with whom they are dealing. Moreover, we compound the mistake by routinely underestimating their intelligence and will. The latest demonstration of this obtuseness is the grave error in assuming that we could force down the throat of the Pakistani leadership our unilateral expansion of attacks in North Waziristan and adjacent districts. This in direct contravention of existing accords as to the grids restricting such air strikes and as to requisite consultation, as Gareth Porter has reported. We are learning the hard way – once again – that you don’t mess with someone like General Kayani. Rather than his telling a fawning journalist how tough he is, Kayani acted and acted decisively. 150 fuel trucks ablaze punctuated an offer we could not refuse, i.e. return to the status quo ante or we tighten our chokehold on your vital supply route. The supra-text, too, was unmistakeable:- and, by the way, keep in mind that we have far more at stake here than you doand we intend to shape the outcome. So long as David Petraeus is allowed to call the shots with his legend on the line, and other senior administration officials are off on their own ego trips, these costly miscalculations will recur. That is true whether it’s Jones, Donilon or whoever at the NSA desk.
· A Mixed Bag Going Forward
By Joseph J. Collins
Professor, National War College
The departure of General Jones as National Security Adviser marks the departure of serious military experience from the top rungs of the White House leadership. It also marks the advent of a more unified Obama NSC team inside the White House. Jones added gravitas to the unknowns that Obama brought to the top posts at NSC. He also was well known internationally. Secy Clinton no longer has to worry about NSC officials doing high level diplomacy. That option does not exist.
The policy effects of this change are, of course, unknown. It may make for an improvement, but it also may make for a tougher task for Gates and Mullen on defense issues. It may well lead to a faster decision cycle in the White House, but they will now be more prone to groupthink. Clearly, this change is likely to favor deeper and faster cuts in our troop strength in Afghanistan. While Jones did not always favor the Pentagon approach, he ensured that they had their day in court. Donilon, according to Woodward, is a Biden ally and the VP’s approach to Afghanistan may well win out in July 2011. In any case, requests for more time or more troops for Afghanistan will be dead on arrival, if any of them were to make it to the NSC staff. Next time, it may be the civilians who try to limit the President’s options.
· The Brown Shoes Problem
By Ron Marks
Senior Fellow, George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute
The late comedian George Gobel once told a story about how he felt like a pair of brown shoes in a room full of tuxedos. That, most sadly, is the story of Jim Jones as the Obama NSC advisor.
First of all, let’s make it clear; Jim Jones was a fine general. He ran his commands well, was respected and liked. And, also let’s face it; you don’t get to be a four star general without some form of political prowess. However, I think Jones was outgunned and outmatched in his Advisor position from day one. It is a different game at the White House.
The role of the national security advisor is a combination of bartender/psychiatrist to the President and he must be a savvy political insider. At their best, like Sandy Berger, Henry Kissinger or Brent Scowcroft, a National Security Advisor must have the ear of their boss. The President must trust them, their judgment and their expertise. They must also navigate the deep waters of politics in Washington’s foreign policy community.
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