New Book Describes Rift Between Obama’s Nat’l Security Adviser and His Political Team: ‘Water Bugs’

By Fred Lucas | June 5, 2012 | 5:32am EDT

President Barack Obama appears in the White House Rose Garden with outgoing National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones, left, to announce his replacement, Tom Donilon, on Oct. 8, 2010. (AP Photo)

( – Gen. James Jones’s tenure as White House National Security Adviser is described as “19 torturous months” in “The Amateur,” a new book about the Barack Obama presidency.

The book by Edward Klein – a former editor of The New York Times magazine, says that Jones was treated shabbily in the White House, faced a “snarky whispering campaign,” was unable to pick his own National Security Council staff, and did not get one-on-one meetings with the president, as was customary for National Security Advisers serving under past presidents.

The general’s wife, Diane Jones, is quoted in the book as saying, “They’re a bunch of Chicago thugs.”

Author Klein did not interview the general’s wife, but he told, “One of Gen. Jones’s closest associates was at dinner with them, and that’s when Diane said what she said. And I interviewed Gen. Jones’s close, close, close associate.”

Klein describes Gen. Jones -- a Marine Corps four-star general who previously served as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and commandant of the Marine Corps -- as an “American hero and a great diplomat-warrior.”

“He’s served this country for decades as a trusted military man and as a trusted adviser to both Democrats and Republicans. As I write in the book, within months of his being appointed, he became a victim of a bunch of snarky, Obama-ites in the White House who resented the fact that he wasn’t a member of the inner circle.”

Klein said President Obama sent clear signals that Gen. Jones was an outsider, “so what happened of course was that he never could see the president alone.” Several sources told Klein that Jones “complained bitterly to his friends” that he could not see the president one-on-one.

The book also describes a rivalry between Jones and his deputy Tom Donilon, who currently serves as National Security Adviser. Donilon, a longtime Democratic operative, made derogatory remarks about military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, the book says. Klein quotes Jones as once telling Donilon, “You have no credibility with the military.”

The book also says that Donilon and other political advisers were frequently present at meetings between Obama and Jones.

“When he (Jones) went into the Oval Office, he was usually accompanied by a phalanx of aides, including three political operatives who had played roles in Obama’s 2008 campaign,” Klein writes. “Jones’s chief of staff Mark Lippert; his deputy Tom Donilon, who had coached Obama for his debates against John McCain; and Dennis McDonough, the director of strategic communications. At times this group was expanded to include Hillary Clinton, Valarie Jarrett, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, and on rare occasions, Michelle Obama.”

Another book, “Obama’s Wars” by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, released in 2010, also discussed the conflict between Jones and Obama’s political team.

Woodward’s book says that Jones saw the political team “as major obstacles to developing and deciding on a coherent policy.” Woodward identifies the group as including then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, top adviser David Axelrod, and then-press secretary Robert Gibbs. “He (Jones) privately called them ‘the water bugs,’ the ‘Politburo,’ the ‘Mafia,’ or the ‘campaign set.’”

“There are too many senior aides around the president,” Jones is quoted as saying in the Woodward book. “‘They’re likely water bugs. They flit around. Rahm gets an idea at 10 a.m., a briefing by 4 p.m., and I will say ‘no’ because the work can’t be done in a day. The water bugs did not understand war or foreign relations, Jones felt.”

In public at least, Jones and Donilon appeared to work well together. On Oct. 8, 2010, when President Obama made a Rose Garden announcement that Donilon would succeed Jones as National Security Adviser, Jones said, “Tom has been an extraordinary ally.  He is one of the hardest working human beings I have ever seen.

“And my only advice that I could give him is when he becomes the National Security Adviser, he finds himself a deputy just like he was to me. And I think his family will appreciate that quite a bit. So, Tom, I do thank you. I admire you. You have been -- the work that you have done has enabled me to do other things that are also, hopefully, important.  But you have been the man that kept the trains running on time, and your energy and your dedication is without equal.”

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