Donilon’s the Wrong Man for the Job

October 9th, 2010 at 11:12 am | 14 Comments |

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The premature resignation of National Security Adviser General James Jones and the concomitant appointment of Tom Donilon to replace him shows one ominous thing: No matter what happens on November 2, Obama intends to move his foreign policy left. Here’s why:

The New York Times reports that Jones had been expected to resign by the end of the year, but that he left prematurely because he had angered White House political aides. Jones’ sin: He candidly told Bob Woodward about his strained relationship with the White House politicos, whom he dubbed the “water bugs.”

Jones had real reason to be angry and frustrated with the “water bugs.” They “did not understand war or foreign relations,” he told Woodward; and they systematically worked to undermine his authority as National Security Adviser.

The water bugs undermined Jones by leaking derogatory information about him, by bypassing him altogether and working with his political deputies instead, and by blocking his access to Obama. They’re “too interested in measuring the short-term political impact of the president’s decisions,” Jones explained.

Now one of those political “water bugs,” Jones’ deputy, Tom Donilon, is set to replace him as National Security Adviser. What does this portend for the future of U.S. foreign policy? A lot actually, and none of it looks good.

A Bad Omen: Donilon is the ultimate Democratic Party politico. The man, in fact, has devoted his entire professional life to advancing the liberal agenda. Indeed, he began his career as a political operative for Jimmy Carter; and he shares the Left’s aversion to the exercise of American military power.

Thus, during last fall’s White House policy deliberations over Afghanistan, Donilon warned of “endless war,” while looking for excuses to avoid sending more troops there, despite Gen. McChrystal’s urgent request for the same.

“Gates felt that Donilon did not understand the military or treat its senior leadership with sufficient respect,” Woodward reports. “The secretary told Jones that Donilon would be a ‘disaster’ as Obama’s national security adviser.”

“You have no credibility with the military,” Jones told Donilon. “You should go overseas… You frequently pop off with absolute declarations about places you’ve never been, leaders you’ve never met or colleagues you work with.”

Donilon may not know much, but he possesses the surefire cockiness of a lifelong pol; and he is determined to set policymaking in a far-left direction.

Thus, according to the New York Times, Donilon “has urged what he calls a ‘rebalancing’ of American foreign policy to rapidly disengage American forces in Iraq and to focus more on China, Iran and other emerging challenges.”

But of course, China isn’t killing our soldiers and Marines; Iraqi Islamic extremists are. Iran also has American blood on its hand; however, there is absolutely no reason to think that Donilon has even the foggiest notion about how to address this problem. And, if the past is prologue — and it is — his dovish instincts are not reassuring; they are cause for alarm.

Election Year Timing: Unfortunately, the timing of this decision is telling because it clearly is designed to signal the direction in which Obama intends to move after the November elections. There has been much speculation about whether Obama would move to the political center as Bill Clinton did in 1994 after the Republicans scored a landslide win that won them control of Congress.

What Donilon’s elevation as National Security Adviser shows is that any move to the political center is highly unlikely. In fact, quite the oppose: There is every reason to believe that Obama intends to rigidly adhere to his timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan and complete withdrawal from Iraq.

America, it seems, is coming home. We are withdrawing from the world. God help us.


John Guardiano blogs at www.ResoluteCon.Com, and you can follow him on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano.

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • easton

    From the outset of the administration Donilon has had direct access to the President, and Jones simply had no great influence with Obama. Obama and Gates had a better relationship than people were expecting so to some degree there was not much for Jones to do. Jones was also a retired 4 star general who was accustomed to being top dog but in the WH was just a cog. Donilon has been with Obama longer and was a former aide to VP Biden. As to policy, both Jones and Donilon were skeptical of increasing troops in Afghanistan, except that Donilon was more forceful, however he and Biden both failed to persuade the President and accepted his decision.
    So essentially Donilon will just get a bump in status, and there will be no discernable difference in policy recommendations from the National Security office.

    Look, I don’t agree with Donilon either but lets not blow it out of proportion, even your own article spoke of the ineffectiveness of Jones. Now if you want to argue that you should have been appointed, that is another story, but a continuation of what already is is not the end of the world.

  • sinz54

    Can liberals and conservatives agree on at least one thing: De-emphasize our past Cold War obsession with Europe and Russia. (The only exception being Britain; our special relationship with Britain should continue.)

    Russia is dying.
    Europe is pacifist.

    NATO has outlived its usefulness. Its purpose was for the U.S. to protect Europe, not the other way around. After 9-11, when we tried to invoke the NATO Charter, we got a paltry few hundred troops from European “armies” combined with moral support (which began to evaporate as soon as the first bombs fell on Afghanistan). The only exception being Britain.

    After the U.S.S.R. collapsed, I hoped that the U.S. could begin to disengage from the NATO entanglement. Instead, Clinton and Albright actually extended it eastward, adding former Warsaw Pact members to the alliance, and proposing a new “Partnership for Peace” for the rest.

    The result was the U.S. getting sucked into the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, which didn’t serve any national purpose of the U.S. whatsoever.

  • Cashmoney

    What Easton said.

    To me, Donilon’s always been an apparatchik with no strongly held views, agenda, ideology of his own. His career has been as aide and chief of staff of someone more important. Which is why he’s been effective. He knows how to work the levers so the bureaucratic machinery operates the way his boss wants. And in this case, he — and not Jones — got the NSC working the way Obama wanted.

    Let’s not over-interpret the meaning of this. Jones was ineffectual (for a host of reasons). So he got replaced. This happens every day in bureaucracies all over world.

  • easton

    “The result was the U.S. getting sucked into the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, which didn’t serve any national purpose of the U.S. whatsoever.”

    Yes, because we can’t imagine that a war raging in the Balkans, millions of refugees fleeing into the rest of Europe could possibly effect the US at all. For the love of God, the NATO war against Serbia was the textbook case for how successful NATO can be. The end result has been the stabilization of the Balkans, the emergence of Democratic and secular states, and an expanded market for US goods and services.

    NATO also provides us with tremendous support now. Imagine if we did not have so many very sophisticated and advanced bases in Europe which operate as the greatest forward operating bases ever. Imagine the huge costs of parking the US Naval fleet forever in the Gulf in order to supply our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, imagine how many US lives would have been lost if our Hospitals in Germany had not been there.

    It is this isolationist bury your head in the sand mercantalist viewpoint of these Libertarians I simply can not understand.

    As a Democrat I do not and will not agree with isolationism as a policy, and Sinz seems to have precious little understanding of what Democratic internationalism is or represents.
    It is precisely this disengagement with the world which would be so suicidal. We are not China nor should we act like it, regardless of what so many of the right say.

    This notion of “what is in it for me, right now” will kill us all. It seems to be the direction the Republican party is going in. Well, thank God both Democratic and Republican Presidents understand the foolishness of this. If it were up to the Sinz’s of the world Saddam Hussein would still be in power and would own and control Kuwait, and lord knows how high gasoline would be now.

  • TerryF98

    Another in a long line of Guardiano BS pieces.

    When Obama appoints someone as deeply flawed, hopelessly out of their depth, absolutely incompetent, and just plain stupid as Donald Rumsfeld let me know.

  • pampl

    What easton and Cashmoney said. This article didn’t convince me Donilon’s going to actually change anything.

  • dafyd

    Mr. Guardiano,
    You sure have some nerve criticizing anyone while spending your day tweeting your support for far right tea party candidate Christine O’Donnell. There are many on the right including on this site who agree that she would be a trouble choice for the U.S Senate. This is not about Christine O’Donnell.

    The simple fact that you wrote ” The selection of Tom Donilon to replace Gen. Jones as National Security Adviser is a clear sign Obama’s foreign policy is about to shift FURTHER left. Shows that you can not objectively challenge Mr. Obama’s decisions. I recommend that you read Glenn Greenwald. He is a constitutional Lawyer who is always pointing with facts not partisan bias that in fact Mr. Obama is not any kind of leftist, actually he is anything but. According to Mr. Greenwald Mr. Obama is continuing Mr. Bush’s Policies. Now I’m not here to argue that what the last administration did was right or not, but to say or think that Mr. Obama who is continuing some of a former Republican President’s foreign policies is any kind of leftist is wrong and ridiculous.

    I believe TERRYF98, has made my 3rd point. You wrote “Donilon is the ultimate Democratic Party politico” Then what was Donald Rumsfled.?

    One of the reasons I like Mr. Frum is that even though I do not completely agree with him I know that he is trying to objectively Criticize Mr. Obama and the democrat party. You can’t even keep your titles objective.

  • John Guardiano

    Dafyd,

    I’ve done more than tweet on behalf of Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. I’ve also written three articles defending her. Here are the links just in case you missed them:

    “Delaware’s Modern-Day ‘Witch’ Trial’” @ The Daily Caller
    http://bit.ly/9ZBoKS

    Karl Rove’s War on Christine O’Donnell @ ResoluteCon.Com
    http://bit.ly/9sWKRb

    Miracle in Heels @ The American Spectator
    http://bit.ly/cV9vmx

    It is true that Obama hasn’t forced a radical change in American foreign policy. But this doesn’t prove he’s not a leftist. This only proves that, as I’ve argued here @FrumForum, he’s pragmatic, not reckless, and has limited Constitutional powers.

    In fact, as the Donilon appointment shows, Obama is determined to effect a rather dramatic leftward change in U.S. foreign policy. This will take time to effect, but the trajectory is clear and unmistakable.

    As for objectivity, it doesn’t exist; it’s a myth. But there is such a thing as fairness and balance. You can disagree with my conclusions, of course; however, I think that I have been fair and reasonable in my analysis.

    Regards,
    John

  • Anonymous

    [...] my latest FrumForum post I explain what the elevation of Tom Donilon as National Security Adviser means to the future of [...]

  • medinnus

    Folks, by now we know – whether we agree with JG or not – what his views are. He’s a conservative Warhawk with Obama Derangement Syndrome. Everything Obama does is wrong. Anything that can be remotely perceived as not throwing more money at Defense is wrong.

    I mean, c’mon… what did you expect him to write?

    PS – I have no interest in O’Donnell as I’m pretty sure we’ve all but heard the last of her, but why shouldn’t he defend her? Given that she’s basically repudiated everything she shot her mouth off about ten years ago, who knows what she stands for now? Its not like she’s endorsed the exact opposite of what she said four years ago, like McCain…

  • easton

    Peter Beinart has an interesting take on the matter and is not too far from what John seems to be wanting to say: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-10-10/tom-donilon-and-obamas-war-with-the-pentagon/?om_rid=CZyX2M&om_mid=_BMswFjB8VIV44V
    Here is a little excerpt:

    If you haven’t read Bob Woodward or Jonathan Alter’s accounts of Obama administration Afghan policy, here are the CliffsNotes: Since the moment Obama took office, the military, led by David Petraeus, has been pushing for a full-on counterinsurgency effort. In other words, a lot of troops for a very long time. Obama, from the start, has resisted, raising awkward questions about why we’re expending massive amounts of blood and treasure in Afghanistan when Pakistan is the country that really matters. Vice President Biden has gone further, warning that given the mind-boggling corruption of Hamid Karzai’s regime, committing to an Afghan counterinsurgency war would be lunacy.

    This policy struggle has not been waged according to the Marquis of Queensbury rules. The White House believes the military brass is blind to America’s crushing financial constraints and the public’s eroding support for the war. The military believes the White House cares more about domestic politics than national security. The White House believes the military keeps screwing the president by telling reporters and Republicans that we need more troops for a longer time, thus forcing Obama’s hand.

    Obama wants someone who will help him wind down America’s Afghan adventure, no matter how hard he has to fight Petraeus and company to do it.

    General Jones was chosen, in part, because Obama knew this fight was coming. He wanted someone who could communicate with the generals and keep them from knifing him in the back. Jones didn’t entirely succeed in that effort, which is one reason people in the White House never embraced him as one of their own. But if Jones was unable or unwilling to extinguish the flames of civil-military conflict, Donilon is the political equivalent of dousing them with gasoline.

    So maybe the bump in status for Donilon will make matters worse. It is an interesting read in any event.

  • Neocon Blog Rips Obama NSA Choice as inept on Iran « LobeLog.com

    [...] neocon pundit David Frum’s FrumForum blog, John Guardiano lambasts Tom Donilon, President  Obama’s choice to succeed Gen. Jim Jones as National Security [...]

  • JohnnyA

    I agree that Donilon’s the wrong man for the job, but to paraphrase TerryF98, nowhere near as wrong as Rumsfeld.

    Sinz, I would argue that we need to develop a similar special relationship with Russia – a great lost opportunity since the disintegration of the USSR. There’s been speculation about Russia joining NATO since Yeltsin (an interesting article published this past June in New Atlanticist about that), I’d push to get them in.

  • AnthonyB

    Everyone who is not neoconservative influenced is the wrong man for the job. Lets pick Bill Kristol for the job! Or Sarah Palin for that matter. She has a pretty face and can predict Armageddon.