Jim Jones was preparing to leave his job as national security advisor in early 2011, according to Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars. Ironically, controversy erupting from that very same book may have contributed to Jones speeding up that schedule by several months; President Obama will announce his departure today, and that his replacement will be his deputy, Tom Donilon.
Immediate reaction within the administration to Jones's resignation was consistent with the long-held view that Jones was never able to be effective as national security advisor because he was outside of Obama's inner circle and was intellectually and sometimes physically cut out of major foreign policy discussions.
"Jones always carried an ‘emeritus' air about him and appeared removed and distant from the day-to-day operations," one administration official told The Cable. "In six months, you will be hard pressed to find anyone in the administration who notices that Jones is no longer there."
In fact, Jones's distance from key White House staff was reported as early as May 2009. But the Woodward book, which included several salacious quotes that allegedly came from Jones, vividly described his tenure as one that was rocky from the start and only continued to deteriorate as he became more and more frustrated with all of the White House staff he was supposed to be working with.
Jones apparently didn't get along with most of the White House political advisors, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, senior advisor David Axelrod, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and NSC staffers Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert. Woodward reported that Jones called them the "water bugs," the "Politburo," the "Mafia" and the "campaign set." Jones almost quit once when one of the "water bugs" denied him access to Obama during an overseas trip to Europe.
The book revealed that Jones confronted Emanuel for dealing with Donilon instead of him, telling him once, "I'm the national security advisor. When you come down there, come see me."
Jones chose Donilon as his deputy at the insistence of Emanuel, despite having no personal connection to him, and later came to regret the choice. Woodward reported that Jones also worked to oust Lippert, whom he accused of leaking information about him to the media.
According to Woodward, Jones was shocked to be selected for the NSA post in the first place because he had no prior relationship whatsoever with Obama. But the president saw Jones as someone who could help him navigate the military, and perhaps even provide a counterweight to the Pentagon leadership due to his experience as Marine Corps commandant and head of NATO.
But if Obama wanted Jones to help him deal with the military, that also didn't bear out. Woodward details several instances where Jones finds himself in open conflict with the military brass, led by Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen. In the administration's debates over increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, Jones often raised the prospect of sending far fewer troops than the 40,000 requested by Mullen and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, arguing that the military hadn't proven its need for so many new troops.
The last salvo against Jones from Woodward came during the author's Oct. 5 interview with Charlie Rose, where he said that Jones had failed in his fundamental duty to give frank advice to the president because he held back on his assessment that only 20,000 additional troops were needed in Afghanistan.
Woodward heaped praise on Donilon, saying that he ran at 100 miles per hour compared to Jones' 35 mph. But not all of the characters in his book agreed. Woodward quotes Defense Secretary Bob Gates as saying that Donilon would be a "disaster" as national security advisor.
According to all accounts, Donilon has been the machine running the NSC for some time, chairing the crucial deputies committee meetings and making the trains run on time throughout the NSC. But Donilon is not viewed as a strategic thinker along the lines of someone like former NSA Henry Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski.
"Donilon will represent continuity and I can't see any major shifts in policy stemming from the changeover," one administration source said.
On one major issue, Jones and Donilon seemed to agree. Donilon is skeptical about the prospects for success in Afghanistan, for reasons similar to Jones's. Just after Obama announced the decision to add 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Donilon said to the NSC's Gen. Doug Lute, "My god, what have we got this guy into?," according to Woodward.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.