Gates in 2010: Donilon Would Be a “disaster” as National Security Adviser; Jones: Donilon Has “No Credibility With the Military”

By Josh

Oct 8, 2010 12:20pm

A defense source tells ABC News that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates no longer feels that Tom Donilon would be a “disaster” as National Security Adviser, as Gates is quoted telling National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones (ret.) in Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars.”

“They had some issues during the Af/Pak review, which everyone knows got contentious at times,” the defense source says. “But since then, they have addressed and overcome those issues and now enjoy a good working relationship.”

Throughout the Af/Pak review in 2009, Donilon, a former vice president for embattled mortgage giant Fannie Mae, had heated disagreements with Gates. In Jan. 2010, Gates praised Jones to The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, calling him “the glue that holds the team together.”

Reports Woodward: “Gates did this in part, he told an aide, because he did not think Donilon would work out as Jones’s successor. 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.”

The book also describes a scene where Jones called Donilon into his office.

Jones, clearly thinking of his retirement, is described as thinking Donilon was “indispensible,” with "substantive and organizational skills.”

But he also resented the close relationship his deputy had with chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, senior adviser David Axelrod and others. The main “pipeline continued to be Emanuel-Donilon, who were like two tuning forls – when one vibrated, so did the other.”

Jones offered Donilon a “performance evaluation,” in which he outlined three mistakes.

Recounts Woodward: “First, he had never gone to Afghanistan or Iraq, or really left the office for a serious field trip. As a result, he said, you have no direct understanding of these places. ‘You have no credibility with the military.’ You should go overseas. The White House, Situation Room, interagency byplay, as important as they are, are not everything.”

(Since then, Donilon has been to Afghanistan with President Obama.)

“Second, Jones continued, you frequently pop off with absolute declarations about places you've never been, leaders you've never met, or colleagues you work with. Gates had mentioned this to Jones, saying that Donilon's sound-offs and strong spur-of-the-moment opinions, especially about one general, had offended him so much at an Oval Office meeting that he nearly walked out.”

“Third, he said, you have too little feel for the people who work day and night on the NSC staff, their salaries, their maternity leaves, their promotions, their family troubles, all the things a manager of people has to be turned into. ‘Everything is about personal relations,’ Jones said."

A senior National Security official who has worked closely with Jones and Donilon says the anecdote in the Woodward book “doesn’t strike me as illustrative of the relationship that Tom and Jim have. We have had a very effective interagency process.”

Donilon chaired 183 “Deputies” committee meetings – among the deputy Cabinet Secretaries – and 114 this year, the official said.  And those were all “well coordinated interagency meetings.”

“This has been a good relationship,” the official said. “That Gen. Jones is handing off to Tom is indicative that they have had a good working relationship.”

As for the specific concerns Jones raises with Donilon in the book, the source would not discuss them.

When it was pointed out that the White House seemed to embrace the Woodward book, seizing on its portrayal of the president as a “decisive leader,” the source said, “it is true the book shows the president as a decisive leader, but we didn’t embrace the book, we chose not to engage in a back and forth about it, and I’m continuing that position over this alleged incident which I believe is not illustrative of the Jones-Donilon relationship.”

-Jake Tapper

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