Remarks by the President Announcing the Departure of General Jim Jones, National Security Advisor
1:05 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. When I took office, I pledged to do whatever was required to protect the American people and restore American leadership in the world. And over the past 20 months, that’s exactly what we’ve done. During this time, I’ve relied every day on the advice and counsel of my National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones.
When I talked to Jim about taking this job shortly after the election, it was a difficult decision for him. He had just retired from the military, had a wide range of family obligations. But because of his patriotism, his dedication to keeping America safe, we were able to agree that he would serve, but he asked that we would -- he would serve for about two years. I am extraordinarily thankful that both he and his wife Diane agreed to make that additional sacrifice for our country.
Today, as we approach that two-year mark, I’m announcing that Jim has decided to step aside as National Security Advisor later this month, and that he will be succeeded by his very capable deputy, Tom Donilon.
The American people owe Jim an unbelievable debt of gratitude for a lifetime of service. As a Marine in Vietnam, he risked his life for our country and was highly decorated for his courage. As Commandant of the Marine Corps, he led our Marines into the 21st century and won widespread admiration within the Corps and beyond. As Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, he helped the NATO alliance prepare for the new missions of our time. And given the multiple crises that we inherited, Jim has drawn on all of these experiences as National Security Advisor.
The list of challenges that our country has faced these last two years is daunting. Since my administration took office, we have removed nearly 100,000 troops and ended our combat mission in Iraq. We’ve refocused on the war against al Qaeda, and subjected its leadership to relentless pressure. We are pursuing a new strategy that finally devotes the resources we need in the fight against extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We’ve reset relations with Russia, and signed a historic New START treaty. And after years of drift, we have built a broad international coalition to hold Iran accountable, and applied unprecedented pressure through tough new sanctions.
We have renewed the push for peace in the Middle East, charted a course to secure vulnerable nuclear materials within four years, and reestablished our leadership in the Pacific Rim, while taking the lead in forging a response at the global level to the economic crisis.
And in between, we’ve responded to a range of crises like Haiti and the floods now in Pakistan that are required from us as leaders in the world.
In short, we’ve spared no effort to keep the American people safe, while also repairing old alliances, building new partnerships, and restoring America’s leadership in the 21st century.
Through these challenges, Jim has always been a steady voice in Situation Room sessions, daily briefings, and with meetings with foreign leaders, while also representing our country abroad with allies and partners in every region of the world. At the same time, he has led an unprecedented reform of our national security staff here at the White House. Reflecting the new challenges of our time, he put new emphasis on cyber security, development and climate change, and made sure that homeland security is fully integrated into our efforts.
Serving as National Security Advisor is one of the most difficult jobs in our government. But through it all, Jim —- like the Marine he has always been —- has been a dedicated public servant and a friend to me. After a lifetime of service, I know this was also an enormous sacrifice for the Jones family. Many of them are here today, and I want to thank them as well. Jim, like your father and uncle and generations of Joneses who served before you, you complete this assignment knowing that your country is safer and stronger. I thank you, and the American people thank you.
GENERAL JONES: Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: I am also proud to announce that General Jones will be succeeded by his deputy, and one of my closest advisors, Tom Donilon.
Tom has a wealth of experience that will serve him well in this new assignment. He has served three Presidents and been immersed in our national security for decades. Over the last two years, there is not a single critical national security issue that has not crossed Tom’s desk. He has helped manage our national security team and the policymaking process, and won the respect and admiration of his colleagues in the White House and across the administration. He has a probing intellect and a remarkable work ethic -- although it’s one that depends on a seemingly limitless quantity of Diet Coke. (Laughter.)
Tom, however, is not the only valuable member of the Donilon team who works here at the White House. His wife Cathy, who’s here, has done an extraordinary job as Jill Biden’s Chief of Staff. I’m grateful to the Donilon family for all the work that they’ve already done for our nation, and for agreeing to take on this additional responsibility.
We have some huge challenges ahead. We remain a nation at war. And we will not rest in our efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. And above all, we are committed to forging the kind of American leadership that can shape the world in the 21st century just as we shaped the world in the 20th –- a world of greater peace; a world of growing markets and expanding prosperity; a world of shared security; a world where American leadership enlists the support of old allies and new partners, while advancing the values that help keep us safe and make America a beacon to the world.
That is the kind of American leadership that Jim Jones has always stood for, and the kind of leadership that Tom and my entire national security team will continue to work for in the years to come.
So with that, I want to once again personally thank Jim for his outstanding service and offer the mic to him to say a few words.
GENERAL JONES: Mr. President, thank you very much for your extraordinarily kind words and for your confidence in me these past two years. When we first met just a little over two years ago, I found it impossible to resist your invitation to once again serve the nation, and accepted to be your National Security Advisor.
Another reason I did so was because I was persuaded that you were willing to take on the hard issues of our time at a very, very difficult moment in our nation’s history, spanning the difference between two very different centuries, the 21st century and the 20th century.
And I have enjoyed this assignment immensely because of this willingness to engage these difficult issues and to do the right thing for the country. And I believe that where we are today in the global playing field and how the United States is held in the esteem of the rest of the world is an accomplishment that I frankly find astonishing in such a short period of time.
And, Mr. President, we owe all of this to your leadership. And I thank you for letting me be a part of it.
I would also like to emphasize that I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Vice President. And I’d like to also mention that the First Lady and Dr. Biden have been an inspiration to all military families and men and women in the armed forces of the United States by the work they continually do to make them feel loved and appreciated in all that they do.
None of this could have been possible -- none of these achievements could have been possible without the -- my teammate and friend Tom Donilon. Tom and I got together just shortly before the inauguration and we scratched out a vision for what -- how we might best help the 44th President of the United States in fulfilling his demanding duties with regard to national security.
We did it on a piece of paper, not far from here. And for the last two years, it’s been just a rare privilege to be working side by side with Tom as the national security staff for the 21st century and for the 44th President came to life.
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 Advisor, 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. And I thank you and I wish you all the best. Thank you, Tom. (Applause.)
I would also be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the hard work of other national security staff leaders, specifically John Brennan; Denis McDonough, our chief of staff; Mike Froman; Nate Tibbits, the executive secretary; and also Ben Rhodes, in charge of our strategic communications. That team is a powerful team, works extraordinarily hard, and gives the President great advice day in and day out on the important issues of our time.
The members of the national security staff, which resulted in the combination of the Homeland Security Council and National Security Council, have served the American people better than you could possibly imagine. This is the hardest-working group of talented professionals I've seen, and it was a pleasure to know that, even if you're on the other side of the world, that these senior directors and directors, when they go in and brief the President, are doing so with the full trust and confidence of both Tom and myself and everybody else. And I thank them for their hard work.
Lastly, to my family -- my wife, my children, grandchildren -- I want to thank them for their unwavering support for these many years, including these last two. Without their support and affection and love, I don't think we could have pulled it off. But I'm deeply grateful for them -- to them for that -- excuse me.
And lastly, I just simply could not close without telling you how much every time we do something in the national security arena we think of our troops -- our men and women in uniform -- and their families, and the incredible sacrifice and example they set for us every day around the world. They are the future of our country -- they are the future leaders; they are the future entrepreneurs; they are the future scientists -- and they will carry us into the 21st century.
The work that we are doing today is going to set the path for this country to arrive at 2050. I can't think of a more challenging time or more rewarding time to be a part of this government and to work for this President.
Mr. President, thank you very much for allowing me to say a few words. (Applause.)
1:19 P.M. EDT
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