RI native Tom Donilon a key player in the bin Laden sagaMay 2nd, 2011 at 9:47 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes
Here at Nesi’s Notes, I like to keep an eye on the career trajectory of National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, a Rhode Island native and La Salle alum who just last week was described as one of the two “most influential” aides President Obama has when it comes to foreign policy.
No surprise, then: Donilon played a pivotal role on the White House side of the Osama bin Laden saga.
Over the last month and a half, the president held five high-level meetings with his national security team to decide the government’s course of action on bin Laden. Donilon was one of the aides who gathered for the final White House meeting, at 8:20 a.m. Friday in the Diplomatic Room, where Obama gave the order for the raid to go forward.
The national security adviser took it from there, writing the formal authorization from Obama and delivering it to CIA Director Leon Panetta, then convening a 3 p.m. meeting of top officials to complete the planning. (The raid was reportedly moved from Saturday to Sunday due to weather.) Obama and his team met in the Situation Room throughout the afternoon Sunday, and the president was told bin Laden had been tentatively identified at 3:50 p.m.
On Sunday evening, Donilon called members of Congress to let them know bin laden was dead. As you can see in the photo above, he was seated in the East Room of the White House last night for the president’s dramatic speech, alongside National Intelligence Director James Clapper, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Biden.
The ubiquitous Beltway wiseman David Gergen offered this analysis of what the mission means for the 55-year-old lawyer and veteran Democratic staffer:
For [Obama's] national security team, Sunday night was hugely good news, too. … National Security Council adviser Tom Donilon will also see his stature grow: He shepherded the bin Laden planning through the government. It was one of his first big trials and by all appearances, he passed with flying colors — and no leaks.
By coincidence, The Los Angeles Times profiled Donilon last week; here’s an excerpt that gives a sense of just how powerful he has become:
[W]orking a few paces from the Oval Office, Donilon was doing what he does whenever emergencies arise: setting up a system for his boss to make choices. On time. And in a way that ensures presidential orders get carried out.
With changes taking place atop the CIA, the Pentagon and in key overseas posts, Donilon, who has held the national security advisor’s post for six months after two years as No. 2, is expected to see his sway over U.S. foreign policymaking grow. But his influence differs from that of many of his predecessors.
Where some past national security advisors — Henry A. Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example — were grand strategists, Donilon is a master of process, enforcing order and structure for a president who deeply values both. …
Donilon’s rise to one of the most powerful posts in the U.S. government reflects Obama’s wish to maintain personal control over foreign strategy. …
Apart from the first family, there may be no one in the White House who spends more time in Obama’s company than the 55-year-old Donilon. He has walk-in privileges to the Oval Office and a guaranteed spot on the president’s calendar as the advisor who chairs the morning national security briefing.
Update: U.S. Sen. Jack Reed tells me the raid was “very carefully orchestrated but carefully protected,” which is “tribute to Tom Donilon.” Read my full interview with Reed here.
(photo: White House, via Politico)