James Jones to step down as national security adviser
Friday, October 8, 2010; 2:38 PM
President Obama announced Friday that National Security Adviser James L. Jones will leave his post by the end of the month and be replaced by his most senior deputy, Thomas E. Donilon, in a transition that will ensure continuity as the war in Afghanistan enters a decisive phase.
In a Rose Garden ceremony, Obama said he is "extraordinarily thankful" to Jones for coming out of retirement two years ago to join his administration, calling him a "steady voice" during White House briefings and in meetings with foreign leaders. Obama emphasized Jones's work in elevating cybersecurity and climate change as national security priorities, describing them as part of "the new missions of our time."
"Serving as national security adviser is one of the most difficult jobs in government," Obama said. "But through it all, Jim, like the Marine he has always been, has been a dedicated public servant and a friend to me."
Although Jones's departure has been expected, it comes at a delicate time for Obama, as he prepares for an important review of his Afghanistan strategy in December. His appointment of Donilon, a veteran of Washington's foreign policy and political cultures, guarantees that there will be experience and consistency at the top of his national security team, if also a personality far less well-known in foreign capitals.
A retired Marine general, Jones brought decades of national security experience to the post and military credibility to an administration whose senior civilian members have never served in uniform. He expanded the National Security Council to include agencies responsible for American energy, economic and environmental policy, believing that those issues would play a far larger role in shaping U.S. defense and diplomatic strategy in the decades to come.
But Jones, a towering if aloof figure, often had trouble fitting into a National Security Council culture dominated by several hard-charging veterans of Obama's campaign who have known the president for years. His condition for initially taking the job - that he would be the last one to see Obama on the most pressing national security issues of the day - was often unmet.
"I think in many ways he was underrated," said a White House official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel assessments. "But there has been a lame-duck quality to this for months."
During the Afghanistan strategy review last fall, Jones challenged military leaders to justify their troop requests, drawing on his experience as the former supreme allied commander in Europe to do so. Jones often expressed the position that additional troops would not make much difference in Afghanistan until neighboring Pakistan closed down the sanctuaries used by al-Qaeda operatives and Taliban fighters.
The appointment of Donilon, a longtime adviser to now Vice President Biden, appears to ensure a high level of continuity in Obama's national security policy and team, which he has had the largest hand in managing for months.
Obama noted that Donilon has "served three presidents" and brings "a wealth of experience that will serve him well in this new assignment."
"Over the last two years there is not a single national security issue that has not crossed Tom's desk," Obama said, adding that Donilon's renowned work ethic is fueled largely by Diet Coke.
Speaking briefly after Obama, Jones called Donilon, who was standing at his side, "an extraordinary ally and one of the hardest working human beings I have ever seen."