The national security advisor of James Mann's profile bears little resemblance to the Tom Donilon I know.
- By Jeremy Bash<p> Jeremy Bash most recently served as chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Defense, and previously as chief of staff at the Central Intelligence Agency. He is currently a private consultant. </p>
As chief of staff at the CIA and the Pentagon over the past four years, I had regular contact with Tom Donilon and his senior team at the National Security staff (NSS). We spoke frequently and worked hand-in-glove on some of the most important national security decisions in our nation’s history — the effort to decimate al Qaeda’s senior leadership, including the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden; the end of the Iraq war; the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan; the new defense strategy unveiled by President Obama in January 2012; and the challenges posed by nuclear tests and missile launches from North Korea.
Tom has brought discipline, rigor, and a strategic approach to the NSS process. He directed his staff to prepare volumes of material — all of which he consumed and utilized. He chaired meetings of enormous consequence. He brought the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense into his office for small group discussions on the most sensitive national security issues from strategic cooperation with Israel to missile defense. He facilitated weekly meetings between my then-boss Secretary Panetta and the president, the kind of close access that is the cornerstone of a cabinet secretary’s authority. He engaged with foreign leaders to advance U.S. national security interests. He carefully studied intelligence products and brought intelligence leaders in for a weekly meeting to coordinate operations. And he did all of this while empowering his deputies, listening to cabinet officials, carefully preparing the president for major decisions, and exercising the sound judgment you would expect from the national security advisor.
The critiques of Tom leveled in Mann’s article ("Obama’s Gray Man") are off the mark. He has been deeply engaged in foreign affairs for more than 20 years. He served as a senior official at the State Department in the 1990s. During the George W. Bush administration, Tom stayed involved with think tanks, boards, and other national security forums. He has good political judgment, but he is not partisan. (People often forget the distinction.) Like Jim Baker, he can counsel on political matters while considering alternative views and ensuring that partisanship stops "at the water’s edge." He undoubtedly is tough on his staff, but he doesn’t ask anyone to work harder than he does. He is a vigorous defender of the president, to be sure, but more so he is a vigorous defender of the presidency, as White House staff should be.
I have quarreled with Tom many times on issues large and small. But he always argued on the merits. He always gave the agency and department leaders their say. And he always respected the result, regardless of whose argument won the day.
The no-drama teamwork of the Obama administration’s national security team is due in large measure to Tom’s leadership. Your future reporting should credit him with at least this.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |