General Jim Jones is forging a new path as National Security Advisor and drawing some heat for it. President Obama, however, does not appear to be among those complaining.
Helene Cooper, in a NYT profile titled “National Security Adviser Tries Quieter Approach,” describes Jones as a consensus builder who stays out of the limelight:
On a foreign policy team of supersize egos, Gen. James L. Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, is flying below the radar. Compared with his immediate predecessors, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen J. Hadley, General Jones is rarely seen at the president’s side. Neither does he serve as a gateway to the president, in the way that Samuel R. Berger was viewed because of his close friendship with President Bill Clinton.
By his own account, General Jones favors more of a “bottom-up approach,” one very different from what has usually been practiced from the national security adviser’s corner office in the West Wing. During a National Security Council meeting in March on Mr. Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy, General Jones, although seated next to the president, seldom voiced his own opinions, according to officials in the room. Instead, he preferred to go around the table collecting the views of others.
Cooper gives several examples of Jones deferring spotlighted roles at summits to others while instead taking the time to hold quiet meetings, forge consensus, and set up the president for success. This has led to criticism that he’s not visible enough or “seen as the guy in the room.”
But General Jones’s style suits Mr. Obama, close aides and friends of the president said. To the general’s credit, there has so far been no evidence of serious clashes on a team that includes not only Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton but also Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., both national security experts in their own right. “I look at the result of our national security policy and I’m pretty pleased so far,” said Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush.
So, he’s balancing egos that few thought could be balanced and has the enthusiastic support of his president and the guy widely viewed as the archetype of the job he now holds? What’s the problem?
Well, it seems, some unnamed sources think Jones is a slacker.
General Jones described that behind-the-scenes “teeing up” process as an example of how he could be helpful to the president. He maintained his cool even when asked about sniping from staff members that he went biking at lunchtime and left work early, although he did, at one point, seem about to crush his coffee cup.
“I’m here by 7 o’ clock in the morning, and I go home at 7, 7:30 at night; that’s a fairly reasonable day if you’re properly organized,” he said. What about officials who pride themselves on being at the White House deep into the night?
“Congratulations,” he said. “To me that means you’re not organized.”
While thinking that quip a tad unkind, Dan Drezner agrees with the premise.
The perception — aided and abetted by The West Wing — is that unless you’re staying at your White House office until the early hours of the morning, you’re not really working that hard. That is a massive deterrent for aspiring policymakers with concurrent aspirations of a home life from entering government service.
Quite right. Beyond that, this has to be the first time anyone has questioned Jones’ work ethic. The Marines are known as a fairly difficult outfit and he worked his way up to be the Head Marine. And, for good measure, he followed that job by being the first Marine to head up the Western Alliance. Somewhere along the way, one suspects he’s developed some organizational and time management skills.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.