WASHINGTON — In another White House shake up, President Barack Obama announced Friday that his national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, was stepping down after helping to shape foreign policy for nearly two years. Tom Donilon, Jones’ deputy, will take over as the top security adviser.
Obama praised Jones, a lifelong military man before his White House post, as a “dedicated public servant and a friend to me.” The president turned over the job to Donilon, a workhorse figure in the White House who brings to the job a long background of Democratic politics and diplomacy.
The president said Jones, from the start, had planned to leave within two years. The move comes one week after Obama lost his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who quit to run for mayor of his and Obama’s home town, Chicago, Illinois. Other significant staff changes are likely as Obama’s term nears its midterm mark.
Jones has served during a time when Obama has sought to reshape American foreign policy on many fronts, from ending the combat mission in Iraq to expanding the war in Afghanistan to attempting to improve relations across Europe and Asia. Jones had quiet clout but found himself in a world of turf battles and tensions given the competing demands, ideas and personalities in the government and the challenge of trying to co-ordinate them at the National Security Council.
“Through these challenges, Jim has always been a steady voice in Situation Room sessions, daily briefings, and with meetings with foreign leaders, also representing our country abroad with allies and partners in every region of the world,” Obama said in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
Donilon’s promotion has a significant spillover effect on the rest of the White House. He had emerged as a top candidate to replace Emanuel as the permanent chief of staff. Now that job appears even more likely to go to Pete Rouse, the newly installed interim chief of staff and a longtime adviser to Obama.
Obama had recruited Jones for a job he had not been seeking. Before the cameras Friday, Jones told Obama that he accepted the job in large part because “I was persuaded that you were willing to take on the hard issues of our time at a very, very difficult moment in our nation’s history.”
As for his new national security adviser, Obama said Donilon already has been immersed in every major national security issue and earned his trust.
Jones and Donilon stood on either side of the president as he spoke. Both wore red ties and dark suits, and both stood with their hands clasped in front of them squinting a little against the sunlight. They cracked a grin once — when Obama commented on the vast quantities of Diet Coke that Donilon consumes.
As in most administrations, there were rivalries between the National Security Council and the State Department, although officials say Jones had a cordial relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “He brought a steady hand and clear vision to an unforgiving agenda,” Clinton said Friday.
Donilon has played a leading role in the policymaking process that tees up the national security decisions for the president. He has overseen the co-ordination among deputy chiefs from across the security apparatus and is known for bringing an understanding of domestic policy and politics to the job.
Meanwhile, Jones, who is 66, has largely kept a low public profile and is not known for keeping the intense schedule that Donilon has.
White House aides say Jones put his stamp on Obama’s major foreign policy decisions over the last 20 months, including a larger troop presence in Afghanistan, a winding down of the war in Iraq and a retooled relationship with Russia.
Jones retained clout and contacts across the military after a career as a highly decorated Marine. He retired as a four-star general, the highest grade currently in use. Jones’ military career also gave him good access to foreign leaders, military chiefs and U.S. lawmakers.
His role was sometimes described in business terms, as the closer. In essence, others might do a lot of legwork to get something the United States wanted, but Jones could pick up a telephone, call the right person, and bring the deal home.
Jones served as the 32nd Marine Corps Commandant from July 1999 to January 2003. After leaving the post, he became the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and Commander of the U.S. European Command, holding the positions until December 2006. Besides his combat experience in Vietnam, Jones served tours of duty during Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq and Turkey as well as during operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia.
Administration officials said they expect him to go into a semiretirement in which he will likely serve on boards and offer counsel to the White House.