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Jim Jones Keeps Getting Kufi Smacked

It seems that the dump-Jim-Jones-rumors wax and wane every few weeks. As April wound to a close, a couple stories went around about the national security adviser’s "problematic tenure," but then they quieted, only to pick back up in early May before wearing themselves out. Here we are again: both Steve Clemons and Tom Ricks have posts about anti-Jones whispers. And I don’t really understand either of them.

Steve writes that Tom Donilon, Jones’ deputy, "wields far more the hand of power when it comes to day to day management and responding to crises that require presidential attention and response." But… that’s what a deputy national security adviser is for. Similarly, my understanding is that Mark Lippert, the National Security Council chief of staff, is also a go-to person for the directors’ staffs to deconflict problems. But you know what that tells me? That tells me that Lippert is doing his job, not that he’s doing Jones’s. Steve further places the whisper campaign in an ideological context:

Their motives may not be earnest concern about the tempo or pace of Jones’ management style — but they very well could be his unwillingness to allow the liberal interventionists inside the Obama administration to have more than their fair share of power in the Obama decision-making process.

Jones has structured an all views on the table approach to decision making — quite evident when it comes to Middle East policy — and the hawkish/neocon-friendly/Likudist-hugging part of the Obama administration’s foreign policy operation may be engaged in a coup attempt against Jones.

Who inside the administration does this really describe, though? The only one I can possibly think of here is Dennis Ross, but he’s more of an odd man out in the administration than Jones. I suppose you could also describe Richard Holbrooke as a "liberal interventionist," but he’s also crazy influential, and could hardly be winning more internal arguments. This doesn’t seem like the right frame to describe what’s happening with Jones. While the administration has its disagreements and its factions, one of the most surprising things about them is that they’re not cohesive ideological factions. The counterinsurgents, for instance, do not neatly mold into one or other ideological label — sometimes they hew progressive, other times they’re more technocratic, etc. This isn’t the Bush administration.

Tom’s post is even more of a head scratcher. He’s hearing that some Obama aides want Defense Secretary Bob Gates to replace Jones. I have no reason to doubt that that’s what he’s hearing, but Gates would be absolutely insane to take the job. If you have the choice between running the Pentagon and being the national security adviser — where you don’t have a real budget and you’re coordinating a whole bunch of big-ego folk — and you choose the latter, you shouldn’t be in government, period. No surprise that Gates spokesman Geoff Morrell says "There is not a grain of truth" to the rumor. Also: is Barack Obama really going to cashier his respected national security adviser after six months? Is that the way Obama operates? Does that fit with any other management decision we’ve ever seen from Obama?

None of this is to say there aren’t people out to get Gates like this was Appetite For Destruction. Nor is it to say that Steve and Tom aren’t hearing what they’re hearing. But it doesn’t seem like we’re any closer to determining who the culprits are. I’m going to offer my own speculation: Jones isn’t the real problem. It’s that Obama hasn’t yet figured out how he wants his NSC to operate, and how he wants it to be run. Pure speculation, sure, but usually national security advisers function in response to their presidents.

Crossposted to The Streak.

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Spencer Ackerman

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