“Jim has always been a steady voice in Situation Room sessions, daily briefings and with meetings with foreign leaders,” Obama said in making the announcement today at the White House.
Jones, a retired Marine Corps general and former North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander and Marine Corps commandant, agreed to serve “for about two years” when he was asked to take the job, Obama said.
The departure of Jones, 66, marks the fifth exit of a top level adviser to leave the White House since July, adding to the turnover in the White House as the president heads into the second half of his term.
Jones is leaving as the administration faces critical junctures on several foreign and security policy fronts, including the Middle East and the war in Afghanistan, which has entered its 10th year.
Donilon will “have to cut through the chaos and prioritize,” said Jon Alterman, director of Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy group. “There’s so much bad news that it’s been awfully hard for this administration to prioritize, given all the things that need urgent attention.”
Jones “brought a lot of credibility to an unseasoned national security staff,” Alterman said. “He had contacts, he had authority and could and did speak for the president.”
Still, he sometimes clashed with Obama’s political advisers who had closer links with the president, according to the book “Obama’s Wars” by journalist and author Bob Woodward.
There also was friction with some in the military. In a Rolling Stone profile of retired General Stanley McChrystal, who was commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, a McChrystal aide is quoted anonymously as calling Jones “a clown” who is “stuck in 1985.”
Obama stripped McChrystal of his command after the article was published and replaced him with General David Petraeus.
White House Relations
David Rothkopf, who leads a group that examines national security and economic issues at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Jones never developed a close relationship with Obama and didn’t bring a broad foreign policy view to the job.
“General Jim Jones will go down in history as the least successful national security adviser since Admiral John Poindexter was forced out of office during the Reagan administration,” Rothkopf wrote in a blog on the website of Foreign Policy magazine.
By contrast, Donilon, 55, has become a close adviser to the president. In September, Obama sent Donilon, along with National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers, to meet with General Xu Caihou, a vice chairman of the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, as the administration sought to bolster military cooperation with China.
He also had been considered as White House chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel, who left to make a run for mayor of Chicago.
Donilon has been involved with Democratic leaders for more than three decades. He held a White House post in the administration of President Jimmy Carter and worked on the 1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential campaigns.
He went to work in 1986 for then-Senator Joe Biden. In 1993 he joined President Bill Clinton’s administration to work at the State Department and eventually served as Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s chief of staff.
Donilon left government in 1996 to work at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers before being hired by Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest mortgage-finance company, in September 1999.
He was executive vice president for law and policy at Fannie Mae, leaving in 2005 after the its regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, found Fannie Mae broke accounting rules and improperly deferred expenses to meet an earnings target that triggered the maximum bonuses for company executives.
Franklin Raines, who led Fannie Mae when Donilon worked there said that Donilon’s “role at Fannie Mae was to coordinate the many aspects of managing the company’s external environment.”
“He oversaw everything from law to government relations to regulatory compliance,” he said in an e-mail.
Woodward’s book says Jones told Donilon he had “no credibility with the military” because he’d never traveled to Iraq or Afghanistan. Donilon saw Afghanistan for the first time in March when he accompanied Obama on a six-hour trip to the country.
Donilon also clashed with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, according to Woodward. Gates found some of Donilon’s comments about a general so offensive that he nearly walked out of a meeting with him, Woodward wrote.
Senator Jack Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said Donilon’s lack of military experience wouldn’t harm the White House relationship with the Pentagon.
“Tom Donilon is one of the most thoughtful and capable strategic thinkers that I know,” the Rhode Island Democrat said in an interview today on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”
Reed said Donilon has “tremendous respect for the military.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Obama “has chosen wisely” in naming Donilon as Jones’s replacement.
“In my dealings with Mr. Donilon, I have found him to be very professional, open to suggestions, and fully committed to America’s national security,” Graham said in an e-mailed statement.
In his own remarks today, Jones said of Donilon that he had been the man who “kept the trains running on time, and your energy and your dedication is without equal.”
Alterman said that is Donilon’s strength.
While Jones “didn’t muddle in trivia,” Alterman said, “Donilon excelled in that arena. He ran internal meetings, he had his hands all over all aspects of the process. Donilon knows all the details.”
In addition to Emanuel, top-level Obama advisers who’ve left the administration include budget director Peter Orszag and Christina Romer, head of Council of Economic Advisers. Summers announced he’ll leave at the end of the year.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at firstname.lastname@example.org