Senator Jack Reed praised the selection of Tom Donilon as U.S. national security adviser and said his lack of military experience wouldn’t harm ties with the Pentagon.
Donilon, 55, is replacing retired General James Jones, a former supreme allied commander in Europe. He had served as Jones’s deputy on the National Security Council.
“Tom Donilon is one of the most thoughtful and capable strategic thinkers that I know,” said Reed of Rhode Island, a prominent Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and a former U.S. Army captain, during an interview today on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”
Donilon will take up the post as the U.S. pursues an expanded war campaign in Afghanistan, tries to ease tensions with its ally Pakistan, and deals with other priorities, including a possible leadership change in North Korea.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Jones that Donilon would be a “disaster” as national security adviser because he didn’t understand the military and didn’t treat its leaders with enough respect, according to Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars.” The book, which focuses on a policy debate last year, reports that Jones told Donilon he had “no credibility with the military” because he had never traveled to Iraq or Afghanistan.
In March, Donilon accompanied Obama to Afghanistan for meetings with the Afghan leadership.
Gates on Donilon
Gates told reporters today he has “had a very productive and very good working relationship with Tom Donilon -- contrary to what you may have read -- and I look forward to continuing to work with him.”
Reed, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said Donilon has “tremendous respect for the military.”
Even so, Reed said it would be beneficial to have a top aide in the White House “who has led soldiers in combat.” Jones, 66, is a retired Marine Corps general who served as NATO commander and Marine Corps commandant.
Neither Obama, nor Vice President Joe Biden, nor any of the highest-ranking White House advisers has served in the military.
The war in Afghanistan entered its 10th year yesterday with the Taliban still vying to control the country that once hosted al-Qaeda. Obama has said the U.S. will begin withdrawing troops in July 2011. Republicans have encouraged the president to be more flexible on the deadline.
Reed said he expects the White House to stick to its timetable, adding that “the size, the pace, the types of units” involved in the withdrawal will be determined by the status of the military operations.
He said as part of the war effort, the U.S. needs to increase pressure on Pakistan to cut ties with terrorist groups.
“We want them to make a strategic decision that these elements are threats to Pakistan as well as Afghanistan and take effective action,” the senator said.
Last December, the Obama administration announced that it would send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The administration is also seeking more Pakistani military operations to prevent the Taliban and al-Qaeda from crossing into Afghanistan.
Congress and military analysts are conflicted over whether the strategy is working, citing an increase in tensions with Pakistan.
A White House report sent to Congress this week accused the Pakistani government and military of being unwilling to take action against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, asserting that troops have avoided confrontations with the Taliban and refuse to open a border crossing used to supply U.S. forces.
Reed also touched on policy toward China, a topic drawing White House attention.
Reed, a sponsor of legislation pressing China to raise the value of its currency, said he was unsure if the bill would pass the U.S. Congress this year. Congress is expected to return to Washington after the November elections for a lame duck session.
Lawmakers have complained that China’s weak yuan gives its producers an unfair advantage over American manufacturers. The measure would let companies petition for higher duties on imports from China to compensate for what lawmakers say is the effect of an undervalued currency.
Reed said a debate about the legislation would send a signal to China that Congress is willing to take aggressive action.
“They’ve got to know there are consequences if the Chinese continue to politely sort of nod, but do nothing,” he said.