Exercising the White House prerogative to operate mostly in the dark, President Obama’s National Security Council staff have tended to be seldom heard and seen; but in recent weeks, that’s changed, and the Obama national security staff (NSS) have been making the rounds.
Recent appearances include: top White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan discussing drone strikes at the Wilson Center Monday, top NSS Europe hand Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall talking the upcoming NATO summit at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS); a trio of NSC aides led by Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes addressed the Chicago Council on World Affairs on the summit last week; White House WMD czar Gary Samore talked Iran and North Korea nukes to a Hill audience last week; Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough is due to address a Washington Institute for Near East Policy conference Sunday. And somewhat unusually, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon’s travel to Moscow was announced in advance by NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor Wednesday rather than after he got back, as has mostly been the pattern previously.
It’s not clear what exactly accounts for these new and welcome stirrings of openness from the White House–the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden? the US presidential campaign?
Brennan, for his part, told the Woodrow Wilson Center Monday that Obama himself had instructed his aides to be more open about U.S. counter-terrorism policies, including the previously universally known, but not officially acknowledged, U.S. use of drone strikes.
“President Obama believes that—done carefully, deliberately and responsibly—we can be more transparent and still ensure our nation’s security,” Brennan said, continuing:
So let me say it as simply as I can. Yes, in full accordance with the law—and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives—the United States Government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qa’ida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones. And I’m here today because President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts.
Whatever accounts for the NSC’s new spirit of glasnost, however, it has apparently come at a cost. Namely, putting the NSC’s usually low-profile top dog Tom Donilon in the cross-hairs of the parody newspaper the Onion, which cites “White House sources” Thursday to report that Donilon has apparently been feeling a bit left out:
According to White House sources, President Obama gently urged his staff Monday to try to include national security adviser Thomas Donilon a little more in the operation of the U.S. government’s executive branch, having observed the senior aide is still struggling to fit in. …
“Most of you have met Tom or at least seen him around the White House this past year and a half, but I think it would be nice if we were all mindful of including him a bit more,” Obama said during a meeting with top staffers after Donilon had left to use the restroom. “He spends most of the day by himself in his office putting together dossiers on the most dangerous terrorists on the planet, and then he just sort of goes home. So maybe you can invite him to come with you the next time you all go out to lunch, you know? I’m sure he’d love to tag along.”
Who are the Onion‘s White House whisperers, one wonders? It’s hard to know for sure, of course; but it’s worth noting the Onion‘s well-documented fascination with a White House figure who has been a continuing source of comedic inspiration for the site: Vice President Joe Biden. And to be sure, the Biden-Donilon connections run deep. Donilon himself served as a top aide to Biden on his presidential campaigns. And his brother, Mike Donilon, currently works as counselor for the Veep, while his wife, Catherine Russell, works as chief of staff to Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden. Connect the dots?
(Photo-illustration of a “shirtless Joe Biden” courtesy of the Onion, May 5, 2009.)