Jim Jones

We do not know whether the president will accept General McChrystal’s proffered resignation as Commanding General. But that uncertainty does not at all detract from the real insights to be gained from this most recent contretemps between the Republic’s Commander-in-Chief and his subordinates in the field. There is a pattern here: Consider, first, the president’s leadership for the past two months, during an environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

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In The Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan By Seth G. Jones (W.W. Norton, 414 pp., $27.95) I. With the war in Afghanistan hanging in the balance, it is useful, if a little sad, to recall just how complete the American-led victory was in the autumn of 2001. By December, the Taliban had vanished from Kabul, Kandahar, and much of the countryside. Afghans celebrated by flinging their turbans and dancing in the streets. They dug up TV sets, wrapped in plastic, from hiding places in their gardens.

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Turf Warrior

In the shadow of the intelligence failure that culminated with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab lighting an explosive aboard a Detroit-bound flight, the titular head of the U.S. intelligence community was busy fighting another war. For months, in fact, Admiral Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence (DNI), had been waging an epic bureaucratic offensive. His job had been created in the wake of September 11 to foster cooperation and accountability among the 16 agencies sifting through the mounds of inbound data about threats to U.S. interests.

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BIGGEST TACTICAL BLUNDER: Pushing the Israeli-Arab peace process too hard. Obama took office looking for bold strokes at a time when peace seemed as far away as ever: Israel had just finished its punishing military campaign in Gaza last winter, and the Arab world was inflamed, and deeply uninterested in making offerings to Israel. Obama's squeeze on Israeli settlements, meanwhile, managed to a) tick off a backlash in Israel that enabled the Netanyahu government to stand its ground, without b) shaking loose meaningful Arab support.

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It’s official: Barack Obama will attend the Copenhagen climate conference on December 18, the final day of scheduled negotiations. Originally slated only for a brief stopover at the start of the conference, en route to accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Obama’s change in schedule is making enviros hopeful. Politico called it “a strong signal that U.S. negotiators believe the negotiations could result in a political agreement to curb greenhouse gases worldwide and a framework for signing a legally binding treaty in 2010.” Obama’s original plans had been criticized by other world leaders.

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Ben Smith notes that national security advisor Jim Jones, speaking at the J Street conference last week, called the Middle East conflict "the epicenter" of U.S. foreign policy problems around the world. It's worth noting that one of Obama's senior advisors on Jones' NSC, Iran point man Dennis Ross, completely disagrees with the notion of "linkage." Ross thinks it's more important to deal with Iran first. Which may be an illustration of why Obama's foreign policy in the region feels a little muddled.

Jones v. McCain

Jim Jones's stern words for General McChrystal on the Sunday shows have gotten plenty of attention, but less noticed were Jones's comments about John McCain, who'd accused Jones of not "want[ing] to alienate the left base of the Democrat Party” on Afghanistan: “Sen. McCain knows me very well,” Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, “I worked for Senator McCain when he was a captain. I’ve known him for many, many years. And he knows that I don’t play politics with national – I don’t play politics.

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The chief U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is reportedly prepared to ask President Obama for between 15,000 and 45,000 additional troops to manage a "deteriorating" situation. One gets the sense people expect Obama to accept something in the middle of that range.

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The Decider

On the evening of Saturday, June 13, a day after the Iranian presidential election, Vice President Joe Biden was preparing for an appearance the next morning on NBC's "Meet the Press." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian incumbent, was already claiming a preposterously large margin of victory, and reformist protesters were clashing with basiij thugs in Tehran. The Obama administration faced a delicate and fluid situation, and it was far from clear what Biden should say. In circumstances like these, the vice president--especially this vice president--could not simply wing it.

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Last month, I reported that Bob Woodward is at work on a new book about the Obama administration, which has been a cause of concern at the White House. At the time, sources told me that Woodward would likely focus his efforts on Obama's foreign policy, and the high-level debates that play out inside the West Wing. A favorite parlor game in Washington is guessing the identities of Woodward's (many) anonymous sources. This time around, speculation is that Woodward will turn to national security adviser Jim Jones, whom Woodward forged a relationship with.

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