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Donilon: More Feared Than Loved

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
October 8, 2010
The Daily Beast


A sigh of relief went through the White House and the Obama administration today when the president named Thomas E. Donilon as the new national security adviser. It's not that the denizens of the national security bureaucracy love Mr. Donilon; he's been tough on them. But he is a known figure, safe and sound, and widely seen as a first-rate professional. He is the guy who as the deputy national security adviser for the past two years has made the policy trains run on time and coherently. His great strengths are as a manager of a difficult national security bureaucracy and as a keen mind on the politics of foreign policy. Most don't see him as a foreign policy strategist, but he fully understands strategy and is now committed to framing and putting strategies in place.

Mr. Donilon was the odds-on favorite to succeed General James Jones, the outgoing national security adviser. General Jones is actually happy to be leaving. The job really wasn't the best fit for him. He's not a politician or a strategist, and he did not fit in with the Obama crowd. He became passive and isolated. It was quite sad. The general had been an outstanding Commandant of the Marine Corps and NATO's chief commander. He was widely respected and admired in all his previous roles.

The president and his team expected that General Jones' remarkable standing in the military and in conservative circles would protect President Obama's right flank. They expected him to explain the president's policies to the military, and to keep the generals in line. Things just didn't work that way. It seemed as if the general just lost heart to be a major player.

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