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Foreign Affairs on the National Security Adviser

This caught my eye, from Foreign Affairs:

Jonestown: Will Obama’s National Security Council Be “Dramatically Different?”

But Jones remains something of a question mark. The most successful national security advisers — McGeorge Bundy, Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and Sandy Berger — were effective thanks to strong personal and policy relationships with their presidents, and it remains unclear whether Jones will establish a similarly close connection with Obama. The retired marine general has garnered widespread bipartisan respect for his integrity, but he had met Obama only twice before being appointed to the job.

History suggests that this is not an insuperable obstacle: Bundy built his relationship with Kennedy, and Kissinger his with Nixon, only after moving to the White House. But both Bundy and Kissinger immersed themselves in the substance of presidential policy, and their operational styles (Bundy’s was open and casual, while Kissinger’s was tight and controlled) were natural fits for their respective bosses.

Jones’s personal style does not seem to be so good a match for Obama’s. Jones is a career military man accustomed to operating within a hierarchical structure, where rank matters and information and recommendations move through predictable channels. Even at its most structured, policy-making in the White House is never like this, and it appears to be particularly far from it under this president. For Jones, Bundy’s experience may be the most relevant, since Obama resembles Kennedy more than any other U.S. president since World War II. He is cool, cerebral, and substance-oriented.  Like Kennedy, he is a former senator and accustomed to informal processes, going to individuals rather than large organizations for advice. As a onetime community organizer, he has had additional experience with fluid situations that Kennedy never had. And as a former law professor, Obama is attracted to disputation as a means of garnering facts and making decisions instead of relying on the counsel, however well grounded, of a single aide, or having others’ views channeled through a particular aide

This would seem to be a misreading of the situation to me.

Gen. Jones, first of all, is not Al Haig or some general out of Hollywood central casting. He is forceful, a useful trait as President Obama intends to hold tight control over foreign policy, but Jones’ career was marked both by innovative thinking and the holding of high posts unusual for a Marine general officer, including leadership of humanitarian and multinational intervention and supreme allied commander in Europe. Excellent preparation for the sort of foreign policy problems the Obama administration is most likely to face – complex, disorderly, subnational and/failed state and with heavy diplomatic-political implications as well as shooting wars of insurgency, COIN and terrorism.

President Obama spent most of his time before becoming chief executive on a limited number of domestic policy issues, constitutional law and navigating the treacherous waters of Chicago politics. Neither foreign policy nor military affairs was an area of interest or expertise for Barack Obama and the presence of General Jones at the NSC is politically useful in itself, as is Jones’ determination to rein in the bureaucracies at meetings of NSC principals or their deputies. Making Jones both enforcer and consigliere  – but also one who has enormous “street cred” in the national security-defense communities.


Matt Armstrong is discussing consolidation and revamping at the NSC.

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