By Dr. Christopher Jon Lamb, Director of Center for Strategic Research, and Dr. James Douglas Orton, Center for Strategic Research
The announcement on Friday, October 8, 2010, that General James L. Jones was stepping down from the position of national security advisor has triggered numerous discussions by journalists, bloggers, and experts about the characteristics of an effective national security advisor.
Now is a good time for the INSS to offer the blog entry below for a rereading. “Does General Jones Have a Future in National Security?” was written collaboratively by INSS and Project on National Security Reform researchers in late June 2009. Drs. Christopher Lamb and James Douglas Orton identified an early schism within the Obama National Security Staff between the reformers (represented by Jones) trying to create strategic management capabilities for the national security system as a whole, and the traditionalists (represented by Donilon) trying to maintain the White House’s crisis management culture. With Donilon replacing Jones, the question of the national security advisor’s role is once again much in the news, a subject this blog entry from last year reviews in detail.
General James L. Jones, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, is under attack, with serious implications for the likelihood of national security reform in the Obama administration. For those who have not yet heard, General Jones is already a victim of the bane of Washington, D.C. political life—the dreaded whispering campaign from anonymous sources. The early spring 2009 chatter about dumping General Jones picked up enough momentum that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently went public to counter the rumors in an interview with reporter David Ignatius (The Washington Post, 6/7/09). A recent Newsweek article (Newsweek, 6/27/09) suggests the issue is not going away.
Several explanations have been offered for why Jones is being criticized. Some cast the development as a policy fight (see Steve Clemons article in The Washington Note, 6/12/09). Others question his leadership style (see Secretary Gates interview in the Washington Post, 6/5/09). We think Jones is sniped at because he envisions a role for the national security adviser that emphasizes the need to manage the entire national security system to a higher level of performance rather than just dominating the outcome of a small number of presidential priorities. Consider the complaints offered up anonymously about General Jones. They tend to fall into three categories that reflect conventional wisdom about what it takes to be an effective national security adviser:
- A close relationship with the president (Scowcroft, Rice);
- Bureaucratic and intellectual dominance on all issues (Kissinger, Brzezinski);
- And always work to exhaustion in crisis management mode (all Jones’ predecessors).
To indulge in a little hyperbole, conventional wisdom suggests that good national security advisers should be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. These expectations are unrealistic, but not surprising given the way the national security system currently works. Let’s consider each in turn.