Is Libya Mess the Work of NSC Chief Tom Donilon?
President Obama's war in Libya is angering the left and right, of both parties. His muddled policy pronouncements over Libya are sowing discord within NATO. His international coalition is collapsing, with Germany now withdrawing its forces from the military operation. Congress is infuriated over the failure of notification under the War Powers Act. Rep. Dennis Kucinich says Obama's actions constitute an "impeachable offense."
There is the near universal confusion about what the American military's mission in Libya is. Who is calling the shots on deploying military assets? What is the end game?
Finally, there is astonishment that the president of the United States departed for a routine overseas trip on the eve of war.
At the center of an increasingly incoherent policy is the president's national security advisor, Thomas E. Donilon, and Washington insiders are privately pointing a finger at him.
Recall that Donilon's immediate predecessor, Gen. Jim Jones, privately told Bob Woodward that Donilon was too inexperienced to be the head of the White House's National Security Council. In his book Obama's Wars, Woodward writes that Jones felt Donilon's lack of overseas experience was a major liability: "You have no credibility with the military," Jones told Donilon.
Woodward cites this further damaging assessment of Donilon by General Jones:
You frequently pop off with absolute declarations about places you've never been, leaders you've never met, or colleagues you work with.
Woodward also discusses a moment in which Donilon almost caused Defense Secretary Robert Gates to storm out of White House meeting:
Donilon's sound-offs and strong spur-of-the-moment opinions, especially about one general, had offended him so much at an Oval Office meeting that he (Gates) nearly walked out.
Current Defense Secretary Robert Gates further told Woodward that Donilon would be a "complete disaster" as the president's national security advisor. After Donilon was appointed to the post, Gates publicy stepped back from his Woodward comments, but the damage was done.
Tom Donilon's other major liability is his long-time reputation as a harsh political operative. He learned the art of sharp elbowed politics as a 23-year-old assistant to Jimmy Carter's chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan. Jordan dispatched him to the 1980 Democratic National Convention to do President Carter's dirty work. He successfully shot down Senator Ted Kennedy's challenge to the president.
But Donilon may be best-known as the chief lobbyist for government-backed mortgage giant Fannie Mae -- just before it imploded. For six years he was a fierce fighter at Fannie Mae, fending off reform efforts by Republicans to rein in the federal agency. He also was deceptive about the agency's troubles. According to ABC News, he painted a rosy picture of the agency while it was going south:
Donilon is described as someone who lobbied for and helped paint a rosy picture of Fannie Mae's financial health to the company's board. He did so at a time when Fannie Mae faced accusations that it was misstating its earnings from 1998 to 2004.
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