Tim Fernholz, a writing fellow at The American Prospect, explains “Why Jim Jones Will Make or Break Obama’s Foreign Policy.” 

He cites a forthcoming book by Ivo Daalder and I.M. Destler called In the Shadow of the Oval Office which consists of a series of case studies of  National Security Advisors going back to the Kennedy administration.

What kind of national security advisor does Obama want? Former Clinton national security staffer James Steinberg, also working on the transition and rumored to be slated for the position of deputy secretary of state, told Daalder and Destler that the relationship between National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker during George H.W. Bush’s administration is the ideal. The two authors select him as the “best” of the 14 people who have held the post, which will come as no surprise to those who are eagerly watching the alliance between Scowcroft’s realism and the liberal internationalists of the Democratic establishment. The two writers identified Scowcroft’s “winning formula”: “gain the confidence of colleagues, run a transparent and collegial process, and secure power through proximity to the president.” The lesson Scowcroft’s term teaches, they say, is that a national security advisor “can gain and exercise power and influence without having to deprive other players of theirs.”

This formula sheds light on why the Obama team has tapped Jones. The national security adviser coordinates all the major agencies interested in foreign policy and must walk the fine line between producing coherent policy and allowing free and open debate among principals. Jones’ reputation as something of an organization man and a methodical, deliberate administrator seem suited to the job. Given the stature of the other appointees, it’s no small task for the former Marine.

Daniel Korski, blogging at The Spectator, also sees some parallels — and differences.

General Jones is likely to be a bit like Scowcroft – calm, self-effacing and super-efficient – but given his stature and the respect he commands across the world, he may also be more of a Cabinet personality in his own right. Unlike, however, Kissinger or Scowcroft, Jones is no academic, has no PhD and espouses no foreign policy “vision”. There is no “Jones Doctrine”, nor likely to be one. In this, the National Security Adviser he may resemble most may be another 4-star general, Colin Powell, who served as Reagan’s aide in the Gipper’s last years.

Of course, Powell doesn’t have a PhD, either and his doctrine is perhaps the most famous of all non-presidential doctrines.  Then again, he fashioned it as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, not NSA.

Both Scowcroft and Jones are retired general officers who advanced to the top of their profession by demonstrating leadership, diplomacy, and bureaucratic acumen.  It’s worth noting, too, that Scowcroft preceded Jones as Chairman of the Atlantic Council and subsequently worked with him as chair of the Council’s International Advisory Board.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if he’s learned a thing or two from his predecessor. 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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