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Thursday, May 7, 2009

In Obama's Fast-Paced West Wing, the Odd Man Settles In

James Jones, sporting his new shaggy-haired Obama White House haircut

This is exactly why James Jones was needed in the White House. I love the "bottom-up" approach and how the Pentagon added extra combat support troops to the Afghanistan surge and Jones caught it:

"I'm not only an outsider, but I'm a 20-years-older-than-anybody-around outsider," Jones said. "I'm a former general. And it took me a while to get the president to call me by my first name. Now, I'm 'Hey, you,' " he said with a laugh.

"But there is a generational thing here. There is a process thing here. I'm used to staffs, and I'm used to a certain order. I'm used to people having certain roles. And so there's a very natural adjustment period."

"My calculus was that it would take six months," Jones said. "We're about halfway there, and I think every week gets a little better..."

Although the administration is barely more than 100 days old, Jones has launched an ambitious restructuring of the White House national security apparatus so it can focus on modern issues such as energy and climate change. He has emphasized the "bottom up" approach to decision-making that both he and Obama favor, Jones said, in which issues are first discussed in working groups, then brought to the "deputies committee" of representatives from Cabinet departments.

"If you want things to go beyond your tenure," Jones said, "you'd better get a lot of buy-in into the big things."

Jones said he feels no hesitation in differing with Cabinet members and offering both solicited and unsolicited advice, with others and privately, to the president.

As Obama was mulling his first major foreign policy decision in February -- whether to increase U.S. military deployments to Afghanistan this year -- Jones said he intervened with questions about the information supplied by the Pentagon.

The numbers were "out of whack," Jones recalled. Beyond the requested 17,000-strong combat force, the military had included additional "enablers" that it said were required for logistical and other support functions. "I understand these ratios and what they ought to look like, and when they seemed a little high, I pushed back on it," he said. The numbers were reduced.