WASHINGTON — Retired Marine Gen. James Jones resigned Friday as the White House National Security Adviser and was replaced by his deputy, Thomas Donilon.
Like other top changes in the White House, President Barack Obama turned to a familiar face already on his team, and the swap will have little impact on policy. However, it could strain relations between the White House and the military.
While Jones has deep ties to the military, Donilon didn't serve in uniform, and his lack of experience helped make him suspect to top Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials, according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's new book "Obama's Wars."
Jones, 66, had told people for weeks that he planned to leave at the end of the year. Three officials, who all requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the media, said his departure was hastened after he was quoted criticizing both White House staff and Donilon in Woodward's book.
Jones referred to political staffers in the White House as the "Politburo" and "water bugs," Woodward reported. Jones lauded Donilon's organizational skills, but he also thought that Donilon was prone to making rash decisions.
After last year's earthquake in Haiti, for example, Woodward wrote that Donilon rushed into Jones' office to demand that the head of the U.S. Southern Command be relieved for a slow response. "Calm down," Jones told Donilon, according to the book. "It was an example of how Donilon made impulsive statements and snap judgments," Woodward added.
Jones also criticized his deputy's lack of experience overseas — Donilon hadn't been to Afghanistan or Iraq. "You have no credibility with the military," Jones told Donilon, the book reported.
Gates shared the concerns about Donilon, Woodward wrote. "Gates felt that Donilon did not understand the military or treat its senior leadership with sufficient respect. The secretary later told Jones that Donilon would be a 'disaster' as Obama's national security adviser."
Gates said Friday that he welcomed Donilon's appointment.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Gen. Jones and I have had a very productive and very good working relationship with Tom Donilon, contrary to what you may have read," Gates said. "And I look forward to working with him."
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also welcomed Donilon.
In a Rose Garden ceremony, Obama lauded Jones' work marshaling administration policy toward Afghanistan and Iraq, building pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program, improving relations with Russia, pushing renewed Middle East peace negotiations, and organizing U.S. relief efforts for earthquake victims in Haiti and flood victims in Pakistan.
"Through these challenges, Jim has always been a steady voice," Obama said. "The American people owe Jim an unbelievable debt of gratitude for a lifetime of service."
Jones served in Vietnam and rose to become commandant of the Marine Corps and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
After retiring from active duty in 2007, he was named the State Department's Special Envoy for Middle East Regional Security to work on the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
The president called Donilon "one of my closest advisers," one with "a probing intellect and a remarkable work ethic — although it's one that depends on a seemingly limitless quantity of Diet Coke."
He said Donilon, 55, had a wealth of experience and has been deeply involved in national security decisions.
"Over the last two years, there is not a single critical national security issue that has not crossed Tom's desk," Obama said.
Donilon's also a veteran Democratic insider who's worked for presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Obama in both campaign and government-policy positions.
He also has close ties to Vice President Joe Biden, who issued a statement praising Donilon as "my friend and advisor for nearly 25 years." He was a top adviser to Biden's short-lived 2008 presidential campaign. Also, his brother is an advisor to Biden and his wife is Jill Biden's chief of staff.
As the chief of staff to Secretary of State Warren Christopher in the Clinton administration, Donilon worked on the Bosnia peace agreement, as well as on an expansion of NATO.
From 1999 to 2005, he was a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, the mortgage giant.
After that, he was a member of the National Security Advisory Group for Senate Democrats.
Jones is the latest in a string of high-level departures from the Obama administration as it nears the two-year mark. They include:
- Rahm Emanuel, who resigned last week as chief of staff to run for mayor of Chicago
- Lawrence Summers, the director of the National Economic Council, who's announced his plan to leave by the end of the year to return to Harvard University
- Christina Romer, who resigned last month as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers
- Peter Orszag, who resigned in July as the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
For more McClatchy politics coverage visit Planet Washington
McClatchy Newspapers 2010