President Obama's announcement Friday that national security adviser James Jones would leave his post by the end of the month, to be replaced by senior deputy Thomas Donilon, signaled the end of an important chapter in the Obama presidency. Most importantly, Jones oversaw development of last year's Afghan strategy and troop "surge." He also helped manage a full national security docket that included a tricky withdrawal of forces from Iraq; a looming showdown with Iran; a reset in relations with Russia; tensions with China, North Korea, and Pakistan; a stalled Middle East peace process; and near-constant reports of terrorist plots aimed at the United States.
The question this week is whether Jones's legacy will ultimately be viewed as positive or negative. As a former four-star general, Marine Corps commandant, and supreme commander of NATO, did Jones smoothly manage relations between the White House and the U.S. military in a time of war and crisis? Did he supply the "adult supervision" of Obama's close coterie of political aides that some saw as his most important role? How successful was Jones in coaxing coordinated action out of the many agencies involved in national security? Was he a valued confidant of the president, or marginalized by lower-ranking deputies, as some news reports have claimed?
Finally, how might national security policy and execution change under Tom Donilon, if at all? Can Donilon work closely with Defense Secretary Robert Gates after the two clashed so famously over Afghan policy, especially as a critical period in the Afghan war approaches with Gen. David Petraeus's December review? Will Donilon's close relationship with Vice President Joe Biden, another skeptic of the Afghan surge, create a block within the White House that favors an early exit from Afghanistan next July? In short, what, if anything, is signified by this change in the critical NSA job?