I am still trying to get my head around why– less than a month before a crucial mid-term election– Obama’s national security adviser (until Friday), Gen. Jim Jones, felt now would be a good time to leave.
Of course, it is not clear at all yet whether Jones took the initiative to leave the White House, or was pushed. But the timing looks inauspicious in the extreme. Especially coming so close on the heels of the resignation of Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel– who left, it seems, more to further his own personal political agenda than with the president’s agenda in mind.
Leaving (or being replaced) right after a midterm election, you can understand. But just 3.5 weeks beforehand? Doesn’t this make the presidency look inept, unclear, and weak? If Gen. Jones had been sincere in his commitment to serving this president… and being a longtime officer in the Marine Corps, and all… the fact of his departure at this particular time has to be significant.
It certainly seems to me as though he felt he lost out on some very significant policy debate inside the administration; and that was what provoked his departure.
Not like Cyrus Vance, an ethical and decent man who as Secretary of State strongly opposed Pres. Carter’s (as it turned out, ill-fated) attempt to rescue the hostages using a whiz-bang military intervention, but who until after the intervention had been tried– and failed– to make public the fact of his previously decided resignation.
Not like Colin Powell, either, who overcame his own strong reservations about George W. Bush’s rush to invade Iraq and who will be forever remembered as the weak-willed soul who chose to collude in that (even more ill-fated) intervention at a point– in February 2003– when he was possibly the one person on the planet who could have stopped it in its tracks.
So now, Jim Jones has resigned. Why?
Several reporters are saying that Bob Woodward’s publication of so many details in his latest book, Obama’s Wars, about the difficulties Jones has had fitting in with Obama’s more “political”, predominantly Chicago-based team may well have pushed Jones to resign right now.
I don’t buy it. I don’t think that a guy who’s a much decorated Marine Corps general is going to be so easily intimidated or embarrassed. Throughout much of his tenure, remember, Jones has been the subject of intermittent whispering campaigns. None of them sent him to the point of resignation.
Will we wake up some day between now and the November 2 election and discover that Obama has signed off on some “spectacular” military adventure whose intent is, overwhelmingly, to try to shock the country into swinging behind the Democrats in the election? The “Wag the Dog” scenario. That’s one strong candidate for an explanation of why now, of all times, a national security adviser would resign.
Another is that maybe Jones wanted Obama to do something more forceful and principled about the Israeli government’s utter disrespect of international law and Obama’s wishes regarding its continuous campaign of land-grabbing in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank.
Let us not forget that the man who is now filling Jones’s shoes, Tom Donilon, is a politician well honed in the arts of inside-the-Washington-Beltway politicking (and with almost zero experience of international affairs.) And by all accounts it was Tom Donilon who cleared the path for Dennis Ross to glide back in from being board chair of the Jerusalem-based “Jewish People’s Policy Planning Institute” to lording it over Obama’s originally designated envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, Sen. George Mitchell– to the point where Ross now has all the reins of Washington’s Middle East policy firmly in his own hands.
Or, as M.J. Rosenberg puts it, so much more succinctly than I have, “Jones Out, Ross In: Middle East Burns.”
But with all due respect to M.J., I still don’t think that either he or Mitchell Plitnick, whom he quotes extensively in that piece, have really addressed the core question regarding Jones’s resignation: Why now?
In Woodward’s book, there are a few tantalizing vignettes about Jones’s often difficult relationship with Donilon.
On p.199, Woodward writes that Jones “was impressed” with what Donilon was able to achieve in the frequent meetings he chaired, that brought together the deputy-level people from all the big national-security departments and agencies–
but he also resented the close relationship that Donilon had with [Rahm] Emanuel. He still chafed that the main pipeline cntinued to be Emanual-Donilon, who were like two tuning forks– when one vibrated, so did the other.
Woodward also writes that during a performance review discussion he had with Donilon, Jones criticized his deputy for never having gone to Iraq or Afghanistan “or really left the office for a serious field trip.” And this:
Second, Jones continued, you frequently pop off with absolute declarations about places you’ve never been, leaders you’ve never met, or colleagues you work with.
So there we have a picture of Donilon as the ultimate Washington Beltway insider. (As is his wife, who is Mrs. Biden’s chief of staff.) Small wonder, if his main frame of reference is what people are saying and thinking in the heavily Lobby-saturated halls of Capitol Hill– rather than in the world beyond America’s shores– that he thinks that having Dennis Ross guide the country’s policies on Palestine and Iran is quite the best thing to do.
Very, very disturbing to have this man now as national security adviser.
Scarier still: he already has a strong record of having forcefully pursued policies that led our country to the brink of disaster. From 1999 through 2005 he was legal counsel and a “top strategic thinker” at the government-backed mortgage company Fannie Mae. Those were the go-go years in mortgage banking, when Fannie Mae and its young cousin Freddie Mac were crucial, government-backed enablers of some of the worst financial excesses that led to the crash of September 2008.
Tom Donilon was never held to any account for his actions during those years. And now, here he comes again…
But I still want to focus on the question of why did Gen. Jones decide to leave now??