Tuesday, October 12, 2010


"This is getting to be quite a clear out at the White House. Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff is going; so is Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser. And now today we get news that Jim Jones, the head of the National Security Council, is also being replaced. That means there will be new people in the three most important staff jobs in the White House. Part of the spin in all three cases is that they are knackered, after two intensive years in the White House. I wonder what that says about Obama himself, who presumably has also been working quite hard?

One difference between the Jones resignation and the departures of Emanuel and Summers, is that Jones is not generally deemed to have been a great success and was seen as a bit detached from the inner circle. Notoriously, he gave an interview early in his terms in which he boasted about what short hours he worked - which is a bit of a gaffe in workaholic Washington. As a result, people in the Washington foreign policy machinery said that most of the really hard work of co-ordination - which is a lot of what the NSC is meant to do - was being done by Jones’s deputy, Tom Donilon. It is Donilon who is now taking over in the top job.

Still, I think the departure of Jones is potentially tricky for Obama in both political and policy terms. Obama deliberately appointed Jones, somebody from outside his immediate circle, because he was a military man and would command credibility and respect from America’s vast military machine - something that Obama could not count on himself. The fact that Donilon is basically a political operative means that that vital link to the military, provided by Jones, has been lost. And that could be really important, as it becomes more and more evident that the Afghan war is going wrong - and the inevitable back-biting and recrimination starts. Obama’s relationship with the military is already rocky, following the sacking of two successive commanders in Afghanistan.

I also wonder whether Donilon is the man you need to oversee a much-needed rethink of Afghan policy. He is clearly able and hard-working. But his career to date has not revealed much evidence of original thinking on foreign policy. And that may soon be a real necessity".

Gideon Rachman, "America's New Head of the NSC," 8 October 2010 in www.ft.com.

"Only the President has ultimate power. If he consistently upholds his secretary of state - as Truman and Eisenhower did - he will bestow a de facto primacy among his advisers. But controversial foreign policy initiatives will still face interminable bureaucratic at the third and fourth levels of government unless they are known to have been decided personally by the president, whoever may have advised him. The NSC staff can monitor and coordinate the implementation of presidential decisions at those levels without usurping whatever advisory primacy the president may have bestowed upon the secretary of state....the national security adviser should maintain low visibility, if not the unrealistic standard of 'a passion for anonymity': few speeches, still fewer on-the-record press conferences, and even fewer public missions abroad. His meetings should be reported to the secretary. The presidential instructions he relays to U.S. Ambassadors should be cleared and transmitted through the secretary."

Theodore C. Sorensen, "The President and Secretary of State," Foreign Affairs (Winter 1987/1988), p. 242 & 247.

I believe that Gideon Rachman's comments while cogent enough by themselves when viewed in isolation, lose touch with the reality in light of American Presidential power and the decision-making processes flowing from the same. As anyone who has had the opportunity of observing, the role of the American President in the making of foreign policy differs substantially from that in almost all parliamentary regimes in Europe, with the exception of France in the Fifth Republic. Au fond, the President occupies and plays (whether good or ill is another matter) the position of a Democratic Monarch. Unlike say Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr vis-`a-vis Churchill in Moskva in 1942, American officials cannot tell their 'Commander-in-chief', that he is talking nonsense. Much less say something akin to this and not expect to be punished for speaking 'truth to power'. Ideally of course, this should not be the case. Ideally, of course foreign policy should be run by and out of the State Department and or other foreign ministries abroad. But, of course we are dealing with the real and not the ideal. As Theodore Sorensen correctly noted in reference to this issue:

"Each president will consult whom he wishes to consult. Who gets to write the final options paper, and who gets to read it and when, can influence the president's choice; but he will often make that choice on the basis of unrecorded and uncontrolled conversations, including those with his spouse, personal secretary or barber".

With all that being said, the most important requirement that the head of NSC should have is that he is close to the President. Again, ideally this 'closeness', should not be based upon sycophancy, but on a shared vision of the type of foreign policy the President intends to have. Insofar as Mr. Donilon has had twenty months experience as deputy National Security adviser, and, has worked in the State Department prior to the in the Clinton Administration, seems to indicate that he has enough of a resume to assume the post. Certainly he has more experience than my own old Professor, McGeorge Bundy did, when he became President Kennedy's National Security Adviser in 1961. Or for that matter either Henry Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski possessed when they became National Security Advisers in 1969 and 1977 respectively. Certainly he has more experience than the current American President's barber. Hopefully, his performance in office will show this to be sufficient. Of his predecessor, General Jones, one was not altogether sure...Quod erat demonstrandum


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