With the resignation of National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Vice President Joe Biden seems to have gained the upper hand regarding the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy. Biden is not a supporter of a counterinsurgency policy that would eliminate terrorists wherever possible while trying to gain the support of the people. Instead, he wants to implement a counterterrorism policy that would use drones and Special Forces to hunt down the terrorists without having a large presence of American troops. By appointing Thomas Donilon as the new national security adviser, President Obama appears to have been influenced by Biden’s point of view.
Donilon has been described as suspicious of the entire uniformed military chain of command besides voicing a skeptical view of the Afghanistan counterinsurgency policy. His appointment sends the signal that the vice president’s strategy will win out since Donilon will be supporting Biden and will team up with him to execute Biden’s plan.
A former high-ranking CIA official felt that this will hurt America’s relationship with Afghanistan since they know the strategy will be to withdraw troops. According to the former official:
[I]n some sense they are America’s best ally. Although the administration said we are going to transition out in 2011 they look at it as we are leaving. They don’t want trouble so they will be buddies with the Taliban in order to hedge their bets.
Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, echoes that sentiment in stating that:
[C]ounterterrorism is successful, but unless you want to do it forever, you need counterinsurgency successes that change the facts on the ground. The timetable is a real impediment to progress and empowers the Taliban.
All those interviewed felt that if America withdraws, a signal will be sent to the terrorists that they defeated NATO and Afghanistan can once again be a safe haven.
Fran Townsend, the former Bush homeland security adviser, thought the timing of Jones resignation was very odd. She pointed out that Jones, a former Marine and NATO commander, was instrumental in getting NATO to commit troops to Afghanistan and that he has been greatly involved in the strategic review of troops in the region. Since Jones prepared the president’s agenda for the NATO conference, Townsend questions whether the NATO conference in Lisbon this November will now focus on reducing the amount of troops in Afghanistan.
Pajamas Media was told that Jones fairly presented to the president all the realistic views and was non-political. Yet President Obama has chosen someone with the opposite credentials. Donilon is a White House insider, sensitive to the political demands put upon the president. He will facilitate, but not determine, policy. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates summed it up when he stated to Bob Woodward that “Donilon would be a ‘disaster’ as national security adviser.”